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Jansen set for heart surgery, eyes spring return

Procedure for ace reliever has recovery time of 2-8 weeks
MLB.com @kengurnick

Kenley Jansen will undergo heart surgery on Nov. 26, the closer said on Friday at the Dodgers' annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway.

The best-case scenario for Jansen's recovery is two weeks, but it could last up to eight. Either way, he's expected to be fully recovered by Spring Training.

Kenley Jansen will undergo heart surgery on Nov. 26, the closer said on Friday at the Dodgers' annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway.

The best-case scenario for Jansen's recovery is two weeks, but it could last up to eight. Either way, he's expected to be fully recovered by Spring Training.

"If we don't find anything, so let's say they go in and nothing happens, everything is good, I will be done in two weeks," Jansen said. "But if something is abnormal, then I'll be down for eight weeks. ... But I still can do all my [offseason work] to get ready for Opening Day."

Jansen suffered an atrial fibrillation episode in August in Denver as a result of a heart condition that leaves him vulnerable to an irregular heartbeat at high altitude. He skipped a return trip against the Rockies in September after a cardiologist advised he would be at "high risk" of another incident.

Jansen had a similar procedure after the 2012 season and was expected to need another operation this offseason. In '12, he underwent a catheter ablation in the left atrium of his heart to cauterize the damaged area and prevent it from generating abnormal electrical signals.

After missing time in August, Jansen allowed seven runs in four innings in his first four appearances off the disabled list, but he settled in to post a 2.70 ERA in his final 14 regular-season appearances (13 1/3 innings). He pitched 6 2/3 scoreless frames in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series, but he gave up two home runs and blew both of his save opportunities against the Red Sox in the World Series.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Kenley Jansen

Cashman: Yanks may be 'big-game hunters'

Team prepared to spend money to acquire talent
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- A year ago, Brian Cashman was still elbow deep into conducting an extensive managerial search, which delayed the Yanks' entry into what proved to be a slow-moving offseason market. There is no such distraction now, which is fortunate, because the Yankees general manager says that he has lots to do.

The Yankees are on the hunt for two more starting pitchers, preferably of high-end caliber, and have spoken with both Zach Britton and David Robertson about potential returns to the bullpen. Cashman is also deciding how the Yankees should handle Didi Gregorius' absence, and there has been internal talk about offering extensions to Dellin Betances, Gregorius or Aaron Hicks.

NEW YORK -- A year ago, Brian Cashman was still elbow deep into conducting an extensive managerial search, which delayed the Yanks' entry into what proved to be a slow-moving offseason market. There is no such distraction now, which is fortunate, because the Yankees general manager says that he has lots to do.

The Yankees are on the hunt for two more starting pitchers, preferably of high-end caliber, and have spoken with both Zach Britton and David Robertson about potential returns to the bullpen. Cashman is also deciding how the Yankees should handle Didi Gregorius' absence, and there has been internal talk about offering extensions to Dellin Betances, Gregorius or Aaron Hicks.

In short, Cashman will be busy over the next few weeks. While the loudest buzz has connected the Yankees to free agent infielder Manny Machado, Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner have repeatedly said that starting pitching is their priority. The team figures to be noise-makers when the baseball world descends upon Las Vegas for next month's Winter Meetings.

"I think we're always open-minded to being big or small players," Cashman said. "I don't think it really matters what we wind up doing, as long as we do well enough that we become the best team in baseball. We're capable of being big-game hunters. We've reset our luxury tax.

"Hal Steinbrenner and the Steinbrenner family have always been massively supportive of this franchise for the fans. We're capable. We'll see if we execute on that level, if this is the winter that we choose to do that, or if we go a different direction. Everything we try to do is in the best interests of the franchise, present and future."

Cashman, who participated on Thursday in a Sleep Out event to benefit Covenant House, said that there has been no date set to meet with Machado, whose postseason comments about not being a player who hustles were "troubling" in Steinbrenner's view.

Steinbrenner told reporters on Wednesday in Atlanta that he would like to hear an explanation from Machado. It would be in Cashman's realm to ask those types of questions, something that he said he has done before with other potential free-agent fits.

Video: Cashman discusses how to evaluate free agent Machado

"I've definitely met with players in free agency many times over, and had that good, honest dialogue," Cashman said. "It has either brought us more interest in the player, or actually it was beneficial that we walked out of the room saying, 'Wow, there's no way I could bring that particular player to New York.' It's a healthy environment.

"We like to educate people about who we are and where we want to go and get a feel back if there's an alignment there, if that player can fit in our culture and our New York environment or not. There's times I've walked away refreshingly, feeling strongly about, 'I'm glad he was so candid because this is not going to be a good fit.'"

If the Yankees were to handle Gregorius' absence internally, Gleyber Torres would be their likeliest option to slide over to shortstop, leaving Cashman to find a second baseman. Free agent Neil Walker is a possibility to return, while Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade are in house.

Cashman said that it is on the Yankees' radar to discuss long-term extensions with some of their arbitration-eligible players, mentioning Betances, Gregorius and Hicks. Those talks have not yet opened, he said.

"Is it something that's on the list of things to talk to and walk through and get to? Yes," Cashman said. "I wouldn't rule anything out. Have we kicked it around in a very small scale way in the offices? Like, it's now or never? Yeah, we have."

On the starting-pitching front, Cashman said that it is too early to determine if they are more likely to add via free agency or trade. Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ and Dallas Keuchel are among the free agents whom the Yankees have expressed interest in.

Video: Cashman looking to add arms to Yankees' rotation

The Yankees have reportedly contacted the Indians (Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber) and the Mariners (James Paxton) to check on swaps, and New York would be willing to part with some of its young prospects under the proper circumstances.

"I can't predict. It's interesting; there's a lot of players available on the trade market," Cashman said. "I'm curious how that affects the free-agent market, but there's a lot of quality choices on the free-agent market. Pitching is key."

Cashman added that he has spoken to Robertson, who is opting to represent himself this offseason. Cashman said that the Rhode Island resident has expressed a preference to pitch for a team in the Northeast.

"Does he want to come back? Yeah, but he said the same thing to me that he said to the public -- he's got to do what is in the best interests of his family," Cashman said. "He's looking for the best deal he can get. He must have already went to agent school; that's normally the first thing you hear. There must be a playbook."

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

New York Yankees

30 ROY candidates for 2019 -- 1 for each team

MLB.com

On Monday, Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna Jr. were named Rookie of the Year in the American and National Leagues, respectively. But they were far from the only first-year players to make an impact in the big leagues in 2018.

It would be difficult to find a team in the history of the modern game who went through an entire season without needing to use its farm system. Sometimes, jobs are given to rookies on Opening Day, as was the case with Ohtani and the Angels. Other times, a player has to wait to be called up to make an impact, just like Acuna did with the Braves.

On Monday, Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna Jr. were named Rookie of the Year in the American and National Leagues, respectively. But they were far from the only first-year players to make an impact in the big leagues in 2018.

It would be difficult to find a team in the history of the modern game who went through an entire season without needing to use its farm system. Sometimes, jobs are given to rookies on Opening Day, as was the case with Ohtani and the Angels. Other times, a player has to wait to be called up to make an impact, just like Acuna did with the Braves.

In 2018, both prospects entered the season as Rookie of the Year contenders, if not front-runners, in each league. But sometimes Rookies of the Year come on unexpectedly. With that in mind, here is a potential ROY candidate from each organization.

AL East

Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B
There's a strong case to made that Guerrero, MLB Pipeline's No. 1 overall prospect, should have reached the Majors last season, even with the Blue Jays' struggles. But he didn't and ultimately finished with an absurd .381/.437/.636 line and 20 home runs while reaching Triple-A at age 19. His bat is 100 percent ready for the highest level, and once there, Guerrero is a candidate to run away with top rookie honors in the AL, regardless of when he arrives.

Video: EAST@WEST: Guerrero Jr. doubles, advances on error

Orioles: Yusniel Diaz, OF
The Orioles' key acquisition in the deadline deal that sent Manny Machado to Hollywood, Diaz is yet to tap into his above-average raw power but has a good idea of what he's doing at the plate, as evidenced by his .285/.392/.449 slash line and 11-homer last season in Double-A. Some other internal options may get first crack in either right or left field as the Orioles rebuild, but Diaz should become an everyday guy for them before long.

Rays: Brandon Lowe, 2B
Lowe struggled initially upon reaching the Majors, going 0-for-19 following his debut on Aug. 5. After that, however, he slashed .273/.357/.527 with six homers in 37 games to finish the year with a career-high 28 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A and MLB. He also finished with 129 at-bats, leaving him two ABs short of exhausting his rookie eligibility. Like so many young Rays players, Lowe has the defensive versatility that could make him a near regular for Tampa Bay in 2019.

Red Sox: Michael Chavis, 3B
The defending World Series champions have a depleted farm system and few opportunities at the big league level. One of the better power-hitting prospects in the upper Minors, Chavis could contribute if Rafael Devers struggles again or the need for a right-handed-hitting first baseman arises.

Yankees: Justus Sheffield, LHP
The Yankees' greatest need is starting pitching, and Sheffield should crack the Opening Day rotation. His fastball, slider and changeup all can be three plus pitches, so it won't be a shock if he's New York's second-best starter after Luis Severino.

Video: Mayo gives some 2019 AL Rookie of the Year contenders

AL Central

Indians: Yu Chang, SS
Though he continues to face an uphill battle towards carving out a spot in Cleveland's infield, Chang, a member of the Tribe's 40-man roster, saw increased reps at third base during the regular season and regular time there in the Arizona Fall League, suggesting the hot corner could be his path of least resistance. He has the hitting ability and raw power to profile there, as well as the defensive versatility to handle a utility role.

Royals: Nicky Lopez, SS/2B
Lopez is blocked at the moment by Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, but he's also sound in all phases of the game and has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. He should open the season in nothing less than a utility role and should claim at least semi-regular at-bats.

Tigers: Christin Stewart, OF
He's hit at least 25 homers in each of his three full seasons of pro ball and hit a pair of homers in 60 big league at-bats this past September. Stewart has improved his overall approach, drawing a lot more walks, while still hitting balls out of the park, something that should continue with a full-time gig in Detroit next season.

Twins: Stephen Gonsalves, RHP
The left-hander didn't fare well during his first taste of the big leagues in 2018, but he had a fantastic year, mostly in Triple-A, finishing second in the system in ERA and fifth in strikeouts, while keeping hitters to a combined .184 BAA. Gonsalves' upside might be limited, but he's ready to be a mid-rotation starter.

White Sox: Eloy Jimenez, OF
If anyone can challenge Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero for the title of best offensive prospect in baseball, it's Jimenez. Ready last summer but kept in the Minors for service-time considerations, he'll be the foundation the White Sox build their lineup around.

Watch: Jimenez crushes 12th homer for Charlotte

AL West

Athletics: Jesus Luzardo, LHP
Luzardo nearly reached the Majors in 2018 in what was his first full pro campaign as well as his first fully healthy, unimpeded season since his Tommy John surgery in mid-2016. Altogether, the left-hander (in his age-20 season) compiled a 2.88 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 129 strikeouts and 30 walks in 109 1/3 innings while ascending from Class A Advanced to Triple-A. The A's will be without many of the starting pitchers that were lost due to injuries last season, so expect Luzardo to receive an earnest look during spring training.

Angels: Griffin Canning, RHP
The UCLA product projected as an advanced college arm and lived up to that advanced billing, racing all the way to Triple-A in his first full season. His four-pitch mix with excellent command allowed him to miss bats all the way up the ladder and is why he is just about ready to hit the Angels' rotation.

Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Tucker has recorded back-to-back 20-20 seasons in the upper Minors. His Triple-A line (.332/.400/.590) is much more representative of his upside than the numbers from his big league debut (.141/.236/.203).

Watch: Tucker crushes game-tying homer

Mariners: Wyatt Mills, RHP
Viewed by scouts as a potential fast-riser when the Mariners took him in the third round of the 2017 Draft, Mills, 23, was just that in his first full season as he reached Double-A and followed it with an impressive turn in the Arizona Fall League. With right-handed delivery and profile that resembles Steve Cisheck's as well as comparable stuff, Mills has all the ingredients needed to become an impactful bullpen piece in 2019.

Rangers: Yohander Mendez, LHP
Mendez's prospect luster has dimmed a bit over the last two years, yet that won't prevent him from fitting in the middle of the Rangers' rotation. He still has a quality changeup but needs to refine his command and breaking ball.

NL East

Braves: Touki Tousssaint, RHP
The Braves have scores of young pitchers who could contend for Rookie of the Year honors next season. Toussaint gets the nod because of the pure stuff that helped him lead the system in ERA and strikeouts and because of how well his big league debut went, earning him a spot on the postseason roster.

Video: Mayo on potential 2019 NL Rookie of Year candidates

Marlins: Victor Mesa, OF
While there currently are quite a few unknowns with Mesa, whom Miami signed for $5.5 million on Oct. 22, the consensus is that the 22-year-old outfielder shouldn't require all too much seasoning in the Minor Leagues after his success in Cuba's Serie Nacional. His plus defense in center field gives him a high floor in the big leagues, and any offensive contributions that surpass expectations could make him a ROY candidate.

Phillies: Ranger Suarez, LHP
Suarez made four uneven appearances with Philadelphia in 2018, reaching the big leagues before he turned 23, and he's the kind of smart left-hander who will learn and make adjustments. He's moved very quickly since starting the 2017 season in A ball and should fit nicely into the back end of the young Phillies rotation.

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF
Robles has taken second chair to teenage superstar Juan Soto in the Nationals' long-term outfield outlook with good reason. Yet, the future remains incredibly bright for the now 21-year-old center fielder, who hit .288/.348/.525 with three homers and three steals over 21 games with the Nats after a right elbow injury cost him much of the Minor League season. That Robles is the club's projected Opening Day center fielder at the moment makes him a preseason ROY favorite in the NL.

Watch: Robles triples on four-hit night

Mets: Peter Alonso, 1B
New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has said he isn't opposed to having Alonso start the year in New York, and for good reason. All the first baseman did in 2018 is tie for the Minor League lead in homers, while leading it outright in RBIs. More power was on display in the AFL, and he has nothing left to prove in the Minors.

NL Central

Brewers: Keston Hiura, 2B
The best hitter from the 2017 Draft class raked his way up to Double-A in his first full season, ultimately hitting .293/.357/.464 with 52 extra-base hits including 13 homers, and has been equally impressive in the Arizona Fall League, seemingly leaving him on the cusp of entering the Majors in'19. His knack for squaring up the baseball with authority to all fields is a truly special trait -- one that could make him a key Brewers run producer for a long time.

Cardinals: Dakota Hudson, RHP
Aside from some command issues (18 BB in 27 1/3 IP), Hudson was effective in relief for the big league club in 2018. It's a crowded rotation in St. Louis, so a relief gig might be his best full-time entry for the time being where his extreme ground-ball rate (2.03 GO/AO in his Minor League career) would play well.

Cubs: Duane Underwood, RHP
Underwood still needs some polish but was more aggressive and consistent in 2018 than he had been in years past. With a 92-97 mph fastball and a curveball that shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch, he could contribute in the bullpen and possibly the rotation.

Pirates: Mitch Keller, RHP
The Pirates often are cautious with their young pitching prospects, but look for Keller to push them hard in 2019. After struggling upon first reaching Triple-A at age 22, the right-hander then had a 2.86 ERA in August. Room will have to be made in Pittsburgh's rotation, but Keller will be ready to jump through it once the door is opened.

Watch: Keller records 10th K

Reds: Nick Senzel, INF
A finger injury, not to mention a bout with vertigo, greatly shortened his 2018 season, and that likely kept the No. 2 pick in the 2016 Draft from getting called up this past season. He's played several positions and was working on the outfield at instructs this fall to make sure there's a spot for his advanced bat in the big league lineup in 2019.

NL West

D-backs: Taylor Widener, RHP
Widener has made a very successful transition from reliever to starter and has put his 2015 elbow surgery in his rear-view mirror with two successful, and healthy, seasons in 2017 and 2018. This last year was his first with the D-backs and he led the system in ERA and strikeouts, while holding Southern League hitters to a .197 batting average against.

Dodgers: Alex Verdugo, OF
One of the best pure hitters in the Minors, Verdugo also offers developing power, a strong arm and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield. The only thing holding him back from being a slam-dunk Rookie of the Year candidate is a clear opening in the crowded Dodgers lineup.

Giants: Chris Shaw, OF
The best power hitter in the Giants system, Shaw made his first big league home run a tape-measure shot: 468 feet off a Seunghwan Oh slider. As of now, he looks like the frontrunner to start in left field for San Francisco.

Padres: Luis Urias, 2B/SS
Urias reached the Majors late in August and showed that he can do a little bit of everything before a groin injury prematurely ended his season after just 12 games. Assuming he's on the Padres' Opening Day roster, the 21-year-old could have an early advantage in the ROY based his ability to hit near the top of an order and make everyday contributions on both sides of the ball.

Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, SS
With DJ LeMahieu set to depart as a free agent, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 Draft is ready to replace him at second base. He has more offensive potential than most middle infielders and the versatility to play anywhere in the infield that he's needed.

Watch: Rodger hammers a solo blast

Tasty rumor: Will Bryce follow his palate?

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.

Is Harper's food preference the key to his free agency?
Nov. 16: Amid peak Hot Stove season, some rumors are more firm, others more frivolous. This one might fall under the latter label, but that doesn't make it any less fun.

As the baseball world awaits Bryce Harper's decision, we're gobbling up just about every tasty morsel of information we can when it comes to the free-agent superstar. TMZ Sports tracked down Harper at LAX and got, well, this delicious scoop, straight from Harper: "Favorite food? Probably Chicago. They got great food. ... Deep dish, of course. Anywhere in New York, of course, you know you can always go out there and eat good food."

Translation: Harper definitely is putting the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees and Mets at the top of his list, right?

In reality, the 26-year-old pointed out that he's still a long way from making any decision with regard to signing what is expected to be a massive, potentially record-breaking contract. But, hey, consider this a little food for thought.

Harper to the Yankees inevitable?
Nov. 16: While the Yankees have said their main focus this offseason is starting pitching, WEEI's John Tomase suggests one of this offseason's biggest prizes could still end up in pinstripes.

"For now, the Yankees aren't considered favorites to land [Bryce] Harper," Tomase writes. " ... But forgive me for thinking that somehow, someway, the Yankees end up playing a role in this before it's over. It would be a New York kind of move, especially in the wake of a fourth World Series title for the Red Sox since 2004. It could be justified by Harper's age, and man would it make Red Sox-Yankees even more compelling."

Harper has said that he wears the No. 34 because the two digits add up to 7, Mickey Mantle's number. And as a young, exciting and sometimes polarizing superstar, he fits the mold of past Yankee free-agent signings over the years. As for room in New York's outfield, the Yankees re-signed Brett Gardner earlier this offseason, making it a full house. But Tomase argues that the 35-year-old Gardner may not be the answer given his age, and Aaron Hicks is tradable. 

One way or the other, the Yankees being in play for Harper would be very intriguing, to say the least.

Phils ready to spend for Harper, other big free agents
Nov. 16: If the Phillies are going to seriously pursue Harper, Manny Machado and other top free agents, they'll have to be willing to seriously open their wallets. And they're prepared to do just that.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it," owner John Middleton told USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale at the MLB Owners Meetings.

"It's exciting to contemplate what we may be able to do this offseason. We know the free-agent class this year is really, really good."

Both Harper and Machado could command contracts in the 10-plus year and $300-plus million range. But the Phillies currently have less than $70 million on their payroll for 2019, and only about $50 million committed for 2020 and $15 million for 2021.

They can afford to make a major play in the free-agent market, and it looks like they plan to do it, as they look to make the leap to a playoff contender after fading down the stretch in 2018. In addition to being linked to Harper and Machado, Philadelphia could make a play for a top starter like Patrick Corbin or a reliever like Craig Kimbrel.

Middleton wouldn't refer to Harper or Machado by name, "But," he told Nightengale, "we will be spending."

Belle weighs in on Harper and Machado
Nov. 15: The White Sox signed Albert Belle to what was, at the time, the largest contract in baseball history, at five years and $55 million in 1996. Belle joined NBC Sports Chicago's White Sox Talk podcast on Thursday to talk about the club, and one of the topics of discussion was whether Chicago would try to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, given they are expected to land contracts in the range of $300 million-$400 million.

"I guess [fans] should be skeptical until it actually happens," said the five-time All-Star. "If they're willing to spend the big money on Harper or Machado ... that means they're willing to go for it again, and win a pennant. ... If I were an owner, I wouldn't give anyone more than a five-year deal. I'm just trying to figure out all the guys who signed big deals that are hurt now. Look at Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols ... Robinson Cano isn't gonna pan out on his [deal]."

Lack of counter offer suggests Harper might not return to Washington
Nov. 15: The timing of the report that Harper rejected a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nats during the final week of the regular season -- during the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., last week -- presented plenty of intrigue. On one hand, Harper's representatives might have had incentive to set the floor for any negotiations, but the club might have also had incentive to show that it made a strong effort to retain Harper.

Either way, the fact that no news has surfaced that Harper's camp made a counter offer to Washington suggests that the longstanding face of the franchise likely won't be back, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

"I think he's gone from Washington," Nightengale said on the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast with Buster Olney recently. "The fact that he never even bothered to make a counter offer or even talk about it, I think he wants at least, he's looking at least for $400 million, probably 12 or 13 years at about $35 [million] per year."

Video: Collier on Nationals' huge offer to Harper, pursuit

That figure will likely be out of the Nats' price range. The club is in the market for starting pitching and catching, and have been linked to some prominent players to fill those voids, such as Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel -- the top two free-agent pitchers -- as well as Yasmani Grandal, the market's top backstop, and the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto, who Washington pursued in the past before the asking price became too high.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo has said that the club will continue to pursue Harper in free agency, but that the club's offer from the final week of the season is no longer on the table, per Nightengale. It wasn't immediately clear if Scott Boras, Harper's agent, made a counteroffer. Boras is known notoriously for pushing his clients to free agency and an opening bidding field. 

Nightengale speculated that the Phillies are the favorites to land Harper, but he also didn't discount the White Sox, who hope to climb back to contention after a massively disappointing 2018. 

Video: Bryce Harper's likelihood of joining the Phillies

"I think the Phillies are a very desperate team," Nightengale said. "They've got a ton of money. They made it clear: 'We want to spend money. We want to win right now.' So I think they'll do everything possible to sign Harper, no matter what the price is ... I'd be stunned if he doesn't end up with the Phillies."

Boras is known to be close with Phillies principal owner John Middleton, and it's been no secret that the club is perhaps the favorite to land Harper.

Should signing Harper be the Dodgers' priority?
Nov. 15: After re-signing Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers may be preparing for a relatively quiet offseason. But The Athletic's Jim Bowden thinks the club should look to make a massive splash by signing one of the biggest names on the free-agent market: Bryce Harper.

In his story (subscription required) looking at one move each 2018 postseason team needs to make to get back to October, Bowden writes that Harper to the Dodgers "makes too much sense," even if the club is saying it isn't planning on significantly increasing payroll.

The Dodgers reportedly tried to acquire Harper via waivers in August, and after losing in the World Series for the second straight season, it wouldn't be a major surprise if they bid on the slugger in an effort to get over the hump.

As Bowden points out, Harper would give the Dodgers' lineup a strong left-right balance, and his star power would be a major marketing point in Los Angeles.

Is a return to D.C. possible for Harper?
Nov. 14: Baseball fans, writers, executives -- just about everyone involved in and around the sport, really -- have been anticipating Bryce Harper's free agency for, well, quite some time. What amount of money could he sign for? How many years would he get? What team will land him?

Wouldn't it be funny, then -- or maybe even a little anticlimactic -- if he stayed put?

In a close count, the on-air talent for MLB Network Radio predicted that Harper will re-sign with the Nationals.

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: 🚨🚨 FREE AGENT PREDICTIONS 🚨🚨The @MLBNetworkRadio team says:Brantley ������ #BravesCorbin ������ #YankeesEovaldi ������ #RedSoxGrandal ������ #AstrosHapp ������ #YankeesHarper ������ #NationalsKeuchel ������ #NationalsKimbrel ������ #BravesMachado ������ #PhilliesPollock ������ #Mets pic.twitter.com/zXhhCHEFXi

While a number of other teams have been linked to the Harper market -- from favorites like the Phillies and Yankees, to other big-market possibilities like the Dodgers to dark-horse candidates like the White Sox -- it wouldn't necessarily be surprising to see the 26-year-old return to the Nationals.

After all, it's the only franchise Harper has known as a professional. The Nats drafted Harper and helped him develop into a big-name star as well as an MVP. Let's not forget: The club still hasn't won a postseason series -- something that, no doubt, Harper wouldn't mind trying to change.

Plus, general manager Mike Rizzo has made it known that he would welcome Harper as a part of the team's future, recently stating -- amid reports that the Nationals offered a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the regular season -- "We certainly have made attempts to sign him. He's our guy. We're looking forward to seeing what can transpire." 

Projecting Harper's next contract
Nov. 14: While superstar slugger Bryce Harper is primed to cash in this offseason, he may have several options to consider when it comes to the length of his next contract, which Sports Illustrated's Emma Baccellieri covered in an article for si.com on Tuesday.

The most likely option would seem to be what Baccellieri terms "The Lifetime Deal," a 10-year contract in the neighborhood of $350 million.

These types of deals are risky for the signing team, as the Angels and the Mariners have found out after inking Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano, respectively. But as Baccellieri points out, Pujols was 31 years old and Cano 30 when they signed. Harper is only 26, giving him a better chance to make a long-term contract pay off.

Harper could also consider a shorter-term deal with a higher average annual value (AAV). Baccellieri proposes a four-year, $170 million contract that would blow away the record for AAV, which is held by Zack Greinke at $34.4 million.

Taking that one step further, Harper could sign a one-year deal for $45 million, betting on his ability return to MVP form in 2019 before entering free agency again next offseason. This would obviously be risky for the outfielder, as he could have a down year or suffer an injury, but he might consider it if the offers he receives aren't much better than the one he reportedly rejected from the Nationals (10 years, $300 million) on the final day of the regular season.

Are Giants better off signing multiple players instead of Harper?
Nov. 13: The Giants could have between $30 million to $40 million to spend this offseason, and they have been connected to free agent Bryce Harper. However, as Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports points out, Farhan Zaidi, San Francisco's new president of baseball operations, may prefer to spread out the club's resources to fill multiple needs.

When Zaidi was the Dodgers' general manager under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the team never gave out any contract totaling more than $80 million, opting instead to focus on building a deep roster.

Pavlovic notes that the Giants need a starting pitcher, an outfielder and a utility man, and he suggests signing J.A. Happ, Nick Markakis and Marwin Gonzalez for what MLB Trade Rumors projects will be a combined $33 million in 2019. None of the three is expected to require a long-term commitment, whereas Harper is believed to be seeking a 10-year deal.

As Pavlovic writes, Harper would certainly make the Giants flashier, but signing multiple players to less expensive deals could be the better route to take.

Phillies may need Harper's personality as much as his bat
Nov. 13: With money to spend and a desire to contend as soon as next season, the Phillies are considered the favorites to sign Bryce Harper. And while the Phils would certainly benefit from adding Harper's bat to their lineup, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports writes that the slugger's personality could be just as important.

Although Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins are strong building blocks, Salisbury argues that Harper would provide Philadelphia with a much needed face of the franchise to energize the fan base and help fill Citizens Bank Park.

While the Phillies made a leap this past season, winning 14 more games than the previous year, they ranked just 17th in average attendance at 27,318. In 2008, when Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels were in their primes and the club won the World Series, the Phils averaged 42,254 fans per game, ranking fifth overall.

Salisbury also writes that Harper's "competitive sneer" will rub off on the rest of Philadelphia's roster, giving the club a much-needed edge as it tries to keep pace with the up-and-coming Braves in the National League East.

Are White Sox trying to clear space for free-agent stars by shopping Garcia?
Nov. 13: The White Sox are actively shopping right fielder Avisail Garcia, according to a report from MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, which may be part of an effort to clear space for Bryce Harper.

Tweet from @Feinsand: According to a source, the White Sox are actively trying to trade Avisail Garcia. There���s a sense within the industry that Chicago will non-tender Garcia if they���re unable to deal him.

With Jose Abreu at first base, Daniel Palka and Matt Davidson likely to split at-bats at the designated-hitter spot, and top prospect Eloy Jimenez potentially taking over in left field soon, the White Sox will have nowhere for Garcia to play if they sign Harper.

Garcia has battled persistent injury problems during his career, and he's proven to be an unremarkable offensive performer (lifetime 101 wRC+) as well as a subpar defender (lifetime -26 Defensive Runs Saved as an outfielder). And although he was worth 4.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2017, per FanGraphs, his production was boosted by great batted-ball fortune (.392 BABIP). Over the rest of his career, he has tallied exactly zero WAR.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Garcia will earn $8 million in 2019, his final season of arbitration eligibility. However, Feinsand reports that there is a "sense within the industry that Chicago will non-tender" him if it can't work out a trade.

Trading or non-tendering Garcia would also give the White Sox the additional option of shifting Tim Anderson to the outfield to make room for Manny Machado at shortstop, though Chicago also has an opening at third base if Machado is willing to move back to that position.

Harper rejects the Nationals' qualifying offer
Nov. 12: Bryce Harper has rejected the Nationals' one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer, as was expected. The 26-year-old superstar is expected to receive a long-term contract somewhere in the $300 million-$400 million range.

Since he was made a qualifying offer, Washington would get a selection after the fourth round of next year's MLB Draft, and the club that signs Harper would be subject to losing a pick (or picks) and international bonus pool money.

Are the Phillies shopping Santana to make room for Harper?
Nov. 12: According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), a rival executive said the Phillies are "shopping the hell" out of first baseman Carlos Santana, who signed a three-year, $60 million contract with Philadelphia last offseason.

Per Rosenthal, the Phillies want to move Rhys Hoskins back to first base. While that makes strategic sense from a defensive standpoint -- Hoskins recorded -19 Outs Above Average, per Statcast™, and -24 Defensive Runs Saved in left field this past season -- Philadelphia may also be trying to clear space on the payroll and in the outfield for free agent Bryce Harper.

Santana's deal included a $10 million signing bonus, leaving him with a base salary of roughly $35 million over 2019-20, and he has a $500,000 buyout on his $17.5 million club option for '21. The Phillies will likely need to send some cash to move the 32-year-old, who hit .229/.352/.414 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs over 161 games in the first year of his contract.

Philadelphia has been consistently connected to Harper this offseason and could conceivably afford to sign him without moving Santana, but doing so would likely mean putting promising right fielder Nick Williams on the bench or giving Santana more playing time at third at the expense of Maikel Franco.

A big gap between Harper and Machado?
Nov. 12: In a piece for The Athletic, Cliff Corcoran ranks the best under-28 free agents of all-time. It's interesting to see where the top two free agents on this year's market land. Manny Machado is ranked third, behind only Alex Rodriguez (2000) and Barry Bonds (1992). Bryce Harper is all the way down at 11th out of 13 players, ahead of Carlos Beltran (2004) and Goose Gossage (1977).

"The math projects [Machado] to be worth 5.2 bWAR in his age-26 season, but he has been a six-win player in four of the last six seasons (I'm counting his 5.7 bWAR this year given his uncharacteristic struggles in the field), so he could very well exceed that projection," writes Corcoran.

With respect to Harper, Corcoran cites his inconsistency at the plate and injury history, pointing out his 1.5 WAR (Baseball Reference) in 2016, and 1.3 WAR last season.

"What was supposed to be the monster free agency to end all free agencies is instead a confusing mixed bag of impressive accomplishment and confounding underperformance," Corcoran writes.

How will Rizzo address the Nats' needs this offseason?
Nov. 12: Although the Nationals want to bring back Bryce Harper, the club has other holes to plug, and earmarking a substantial portion of their payroll for a potential Harper reunion could have dire consequences if the team waits too long and the 26-year-old signs elsewhere.

According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), one agent offered a theory about Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo's offseason approach, predicting that Rizzo will aggressively try to address the team's needs, then leave it up to ownership to make the final decision on Harper if the outfielder is still available.

As Rosenthal points out, Rizzo must proceed as if Harper is not returning after the slugger reportedly rejected a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nats on the final day of the regular season.

Rosenthal also notes that any upgrades the Nats make could make the team more appealing to Harper and persuade him to re-sign, which would be a win-win scenario for Rizzo.

World Series MVP Pearce re-ups with Sox

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- The World Series MVP is coming back. The Red Sox and first baseman Steve Pearce agreed Friday to a one-year contract worth $6.25 million.

With left-handed-hitting first baseman Mitch Moreland also in the fold for another season, Pearce is a perfect fit complement for manager Alex Cora with his right-handed bat.

BOSTON -- The World Series MVP is coming back. The Red Sox and first baseman Steve Pearce agreed Friday to a one-year contract worth $6.25 million.

With left-handed-hitting first baseman Mitch Moreland also in the fold for another season, Pearce is a perfect fit complement for manager Alex Cora with his right-handed bat.

"We're thrilled to have Steve back with us for another year, as we think he's a great fit for our club," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "Obviously, we all saw what kind of impact he can have on the field, especially with the postseason that he had. He also provides good depth and balance from the right side for us."

Pearce was acquired by the Red Sox from the Blue Jays for Minor Leaguer Santiago Espinal on June 28 and became a perfect fit basically on arrival.

In 50 games, the 35-year-old Pearce slashed .279/.394/.507 with seven homers and 26 RBIs. Five of those home runs came against the Yankees, quickly making him a fan favorite.

But it was in the World Series that Pearce truly made his mark, as he had three homers and eight RBIs in 12 at-bats to help the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in five games. All four of Pearce's hits in the World Series were for extra bases.

Video: Steve Pearce on trade to Sox, World Series MVP Award

In 2018, Pearce had a .959 OPS against lefties and also held his own with righties, putting up an .828 mark.

With Moreland dealing with an ailing hamstring in October, Pearce started 11 of Boston's 14 games in October, hitting .289 with a 1.083 OPS.

A veteran of 12 Major League seasons, Pearce joined Kelly Johnson as the only players ever to appear in at least one game for each of the five current AL East clubs.

Closer Craig Kimbrel, flame-throwing starter Nathan Eovaldi and righty reliever Joe Kelly are other key players for the World Series champions who are free agents.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Steve Pearce

Phillies 'expecting to spend' this offseason

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano woke up to good news on Friday.

Phillies managing partner John Middleton confirmed his organization's intentions to spend big money this offseason at the Owners' Meetings this week in Atlanta, telling USA Today Sports that "we're going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

PHILADELPHIA -- Agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano woke up to good news on Friday.

Phillies managing partner John Middleton confirmed his organization's intentions to spend big money this offseason at the Owners' Meetings this week in Atlanta, telling USA Today Sports that "we're going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

Middleton laughed, then added, "We just prefer not to be completely stupid."

The Phillies are focused on Bryce Harper, whom Boras represents, and Manny Machado, whom Lozano represents. Both could command contracts in excess of $300 million, but the Phillies have indicated they will only sign one of them, if they sign one at all. The Phillies also are interested in free-agent left-handers like Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, and closer Craig Kimbrel.

Essentially, if there is a free agent out there that could help the Phillies, they have talked to his agent. Bet on it.

"Matt is going to be a busy boy this winter," Middleton said, referring to Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

"It's exciting to contemplate what we may be able to do this offseason. We know the free-agent class this year is really, really good."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado

Rumors: Harper, Machado, Realmuto, Thor

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

Phillies are ready to spend for Harper, Machado
Nov. 16: If the Phillies are going to seriously pursue both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, they'll have to be willing to seriously open their wallets. And they're prepared to do just that.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it," owner John Middleton told USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale at the MLB Owners Meetings.

"It's exciting to contemplate what we may be able to do this offseason. We know the free-agent class this year is really, really good."

Both Harper and Machado could command contracts in the 10-plus year and $300-plus million range. But the Phillies currently have less than $70 million on their payroll for 2019, and only about $50 million committed for 2020 and $15 million for 2021.

They can afford to make a major play in the free-agent market, and it looks like they plan to do it, as they try to make the leap to a playoff contender after fading down the stretch in 2018. In addition to being linked to Harper and Machado, Philadelphia could make a play for a top starter like Patrick Corbin or a reliever like Craig Kimbrel.

Middleton wouldn't refer to Harper or Machado by name, "But," he told Nightengale, "we will be spending."

Astros join the race for Realmuto
Nov. 16: The Astros need a catcher after letting Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado hit free agency. The initial expectation, it seemed, was that the 2017 World Series champions would look to bring in a backstop like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos via the open market. But Houston also could consider the trade route -- meaning arguably the best catcher in baseball.

In fact, the Astros have engaged the Marlins in trade talks for J.T. Realmuto and "remain a viable destination" for him, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reports.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: #Astros remain a viable destination for Realmuto despite the high price tag, in part because #Marlins prefer not to trade him within the division to the #Braves, who are actively looking for a catcher. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Morosi points out that the Marlins continue to insist on either outfielder Kyle Tucker or right-hander Forrest Whitley -- Houston's top two prospects and Nos. 5 and 8 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list -- as part of any offer. That's a steep price, but Realmuto is coming off his best year yet (21 HR, .825 OPS), is in his prime at age 27 and under club control through the 2020 season.

The Astros also are seeking a starting pitcher to help fill the voids left by free agents Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, as well as Lance McCullers Jr., who will miss all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery. The club is eyeing the trade market to that end, too, according to Morosi.

Put simply, the Astros might be very active and rather creative this winter.

Padres are eyeing Syndergaard again
Nov. 16: The Padres could be something of an X-factor this offseason. Coming off their eighth straight losing season, they're not contenders -- yet -- but they do have arguably the top farm system in baseball, with much of that young talent (read: Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Mejia, Luis Urias, Chris Paddack) on the verge of making an impact in The Show. Since the club's window to contention should be opening, it's certainly possible San Diego could make a bold move to try to return to relevance sooner than later. That's part of why they landed Eric Hosmer a year ago.

One such possibility? Trading for a big-name, front-of-the-rotation arm like Mets righty Noah Syndergaard, who they expressed interest in back in July.

The Padres remain interested, MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal writes in a story for The Athletic (subscription required): "The likelihood that the Mets secure long-term deals with Syndergaard and National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom seems slim, so it probably will behoove them to at least explore the trade market for one or the other."

Andy Martino of SNY also is hearing that the Padres are "expected to go harder after Syndergaard now."

Video: Rosenthal on Padres' interested in acquiring Thor

Syndergaard still is only 26 years old and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 campaign, so he would sync up well with the Padres' timeline. What's more, he would provide an ace-caliber pitcher to front a rotation that already includes youngsters like Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer and Jacob Nix, and will soon feature high-upside prospects like Paddack, MacKenzie Gore and Cal Quantrill, among others.

Of course, Syndergaard's high-velocity repertoire, age and remaining years of control all make him a pricey acquisition, so the Padres would have to surrender more than a few top prospects to bring him aboard. Given the system's talent and depth, however, they could afford it.

Are the D-backs selling stars Goldschmidt and Greinke?
Nov. 16: The D-backs have two very big names who could shake up the trade market, if the club decides to go that route: slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and top-of-the-rotation righty Zack Greinke. But will Arizona's brass actually put those two foundation pieces up for sale?

Here's the latest from MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi: "The D-backs consistently are described as one of the most active sellers on the trade market in the early stages of the offseason. Arizona club officials have indicated to other teams that they aren't prepared to include cash in a trade to offset Greinke's salary, nor do they plan to package Goldschmidt with Greinke in order to make Greinke's financial obligation more palatable."

Video: D-backs to become sellers this offseason?

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman considers possible trade partners in an article for Fancred Sports. Heyman notes there aren't many clubs in the market for a first baseman this offseason, but one interesting destination would be Houston, as Goldschmidt went to high school about 30 miles north of Minute Maid Park and then attended Texas State University.

Goldschmidt -- who fits best with a contender, because he will be a free agent after the 2019 season -- could alternate between first base and designated hitter for the Astros, along with Yuli Gurriel. Or the versatile Gurriel could be used all over the infield. Goldschmidt, a six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, has a career .297/.398/.532 slash line with 209 home runs in eight seasons with Arizona.

As for Greinke, he remains under contract through 2021 at $104.5 million total, so presumably his trade market would be limited to teams with the payroll flexibility to take on most or all of his pact. Especially if, as Morosi notes, the D-backs aren't looking to pay down the money to get a deal done.

Morosi: Reds, A's have spoken with the Yanks about Gray
Nov. 16: It's widely known that the Yankees are looking to deal right-hander Sonny Gray, and two potential landing spots surfaced Friday. Both the Reds and A's have been in contact with New York about acquiring Gray, according MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, but there is "no present momentum" in trade talks.

As for a return to the Bay, Morosi noted Oakland's front office is no stranger to bringing back former A's, such as Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson in 2018. Gray enjoyed his best years in Oakland, including his lone All-Star campaign in 2015 in which he won 14 games and posted a 2.73 ERA. He hasn't faired as well since joining the Yankees in 2017 via trade and fell out of the New York rotation midway through the 2018 season.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Sources: #Yankees, #Athletics have had contact about a deal that would send Sonny Gray back to Oakland, but there is no present momentum in talks. Oakland is looking for pitching and clearly comfortable bringing back former A���s (Cahill, Anderson, et al). @MLB @MLBNetwork

The Reds need arms and are expected to spend aggressively this offseason, but MLB.com's Richard Justice writes that the contract demands of free agents Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel -- arguably the top two starters on the open market -- may be out of Cincinnati's "comfort zone." Instead, Jon Heyman reports for Fancred Sports that the Reds are focusing their search around trade candidates James Paxton and Gray, who would come with lower price tags -- in terms of dollars, at least.

Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams had alluded to the team's need for two pitchers and the its willingness to pursue an arm via trade in an interview with Cincinnati's WLW Radio.

"I think we need to add two pitchers," Williams said. "I said two pitchers. They could both be starters, they don't have to be. There's a good chance we'll target two starters and I think we have to be prepared to pursue both [free agency and trade] avenues. ... When you don't have as much money, you're not playing with those guys that go off the board first. You're able to sort of wait and let the other guys spend their money, and then find the value deals. I think this year we feel like we need to be a little more aggressive than that."

Does Brantley's bat compare favorably to Machado's?
Nov. 16: Michael Brantley and Manny Machado are both free agents this offseason. The former is going to get a fraction of the contract that the latter does, for a number of reasons related to age, durability, potential, position value, etc. That is understandable.

What might be surprising, however, is just how close these two have been from a statistical standpoint in recent years. In fact, there's a legitimate argument that Brantley has been (gasp!) a better offensive player than Machado, at least by certain metrics.

MLB Network's Hot Stove Live show made this comparison across the past five seasons in a game of blind resumes:

Machado: .283 AVG, .343 OBP, .502 SLG, 127 OPS+

Brantley: .311 AVG, .371 OBP, .475 SLG, 127 OPS+

Again, none of this is to say that Machado isn't the better free-agent option this winter -- he's five years younger than Brantley, has proved to be more durable and plays a much more valuable defensive position -- but it does go to show how underappreciated Brantley has been.

Video: Blind resumes of MLB's high-profile free agents

Could the Angels be in play for Miller?
Nov. 16: The Angels need pitching, period. Their starting rotation might be the more glaring issue, as hard as it's been hit by injuries, but they could use some bullpen upgrades, too.

Maybe Andrew Miller could be one. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal suggests that Miller to Anaheim is a possibility (subscription required), given his connection to Angels general manager Billy Eppler.

Eppler was in the Yankees front office when New York signed the left-hander to his last free-agent contract in December 2014 -- a four-year, $36 million deal. It was with the Yankees that Miller really emerged as a relief ace, before his trade to the Indians in 2016.

Miller's now played out that contract, and is on the market again entering his age-34 season. He's coming off an injury-plagued year, with his performance slipping in 2018 as he dealt with knee and shoulder issues. But if he's fully healthy in 2019, he could recapture his dominant form. The Angels could use an arm like that, especially if they trade reliever Blake Parker, which Rosenthal notes they might.

Comparing Cruz and Harper
Nov. 16: Nelson Cruz is among the biggest bats available in free agency. Bryce Harper might be the biggest bat -- and the biggest name -- on the open market. The similarities end there, though, right? After all, the former is much older, limited to a designated hitter role and not looking to land a record-breaking contract.

Maybe not. MLB Network's Hot Stove Live show made this comparison over the past four seasons in a game of blind resumes:

Cruz (570 games): .284 AVG, 163 HR, 414 RBIs, 148 OPS+

Harper (606 games): .283 AVG, 129 HR, 372 RBIs, 150 OPS+

Cruz and Harper's production going back to 2015 -- the year Harper was the unanimous National League MVP, by the way -- is pretty close. Admit it: You weren't expecting that.

Of course, Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, can push for the massive $400 million deal they're seeking because Harper is a whopping 12 years younger than Cruz (38) and has put up some historic, Hall of Fame-caliber statistics through his age-25 campaign.

But if you're an American League contender hunting for a big bat to boost your lineup and have an opening at DH, well, you might want to give Cruz a call.

Will Keuchel's free agency extend into the new year?
Nov. 16: Dallas Keuchel is one of the top starting pitchers on the free-agent market, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to sign any time soon.

MLB.com's Jim Duquette speculates that Keuchel is one of a handful of free agents who may have to wait a bit. One key reason for Keuchel, in particular? "The available supply of left-handers could be a factor ... with Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Gio Gonzalez, and Wade Miley joining Keuchel as free agents, as well as Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, who is set to be posted."

In other words, Keuchel has some competition on the open market. Not to mention, a number of other left-handers -- like the Giants' Madison Bumgarner and Mariners' James Paxton -- are in the mix as potential trade chips, too. While Keuchel may stand out some for his 2015 American League Cy Young Award and overall durability, there are other options -- and cheaper ones at that.

Is Harper's food preference the key to his free agency?
Nov. 16: Amid peak Hot Stove season, some rumors are more firm, others more frivolous. This one might fall under the latter label, but that doesn't make it any less fun.

As the baseball world awaits Bryce Harper's decision, we're gobbling up just about every tasty morsel of information we can when it comes to the free-agent superstar. TMZ Sports tracked down Harper at LAX and got, well, this delicious scoop, straight from Harper: "Favorite food? Probably Chicago. They got great food. ... Deep dish, of course. Anywhere in New York, of course, you know you can always go out there and eat good food."

Translation: Harper definitely is putting the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees and Mets at the top of his list, right?

In reality, the 26-year-old pointed out that he's still a long way from making any decision with regard to signing what is expected to be a massive, potentially record-breaking contract. But, hey, consider this a little food for thought.

Playing the blind resume game with Kimbrel
Nov. 16: It's hard to argue that Craig Kimbrel isn't the biggest name among free-agent relievers this offseason. He's arguably been the most consistent, durable and overwhelmingly productive closer since he debuted back in 2010. And because of that, he's likely to command a very large multi-year contract.

But there might be another late-inning arm on the open market with closing experience and recent performance in line with Kimbrel's -- at least, in some statistics -- who will cost a lot less.

MLB Network's Hot Stove Live program brought up this comparison across the 2017-18 seasons in a game of blind resumes:

Kimbrel: 130 games, 2.06 ERA, 15.2 K/9, 0.83 WHIP

Player B: 130 games, 2.54 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 0.94 WHIP

Pretty close, right? Granted, Kimbrel's numbers are better across the board in ERA, K/9 and WHIP, and he's also racked up way more saves (77 to 19), but that's only because Player B was serving primarily as a setup reliever in a loaded bullpen for most of that span.

So who is this unnamed arm? Watch the video below to find out:

Video: Blind resumes of MLB's high-profile free agents

Should the Giants invest in Eovaldi?
Nov. 15: Nathan Eovaldi helped his stock tremendously with a great postseason performance for the Red Sox, and several teams are reportedly interested in signing the hard-throwing right-hander this offseason. But given his injury history, is he worth the risk, especially for a team that has a pair of high-priced starters that have been injured often, like the Giants?

San Francisco gave free agent Johnny Cueto a $130 million contract prior to the 2016 season, and Jeff Samardzija a $90 million deal the same offseason. Both missed most of the 2018 season with injuries, and Cueto will be out for part of 2019 after Tommy John surgery. Will the club take a gamble on Eovaldi?

"Eovaldi checks off a lot of those boxes that made guys like [Rich] Hill attractive to the Dodgers," writes NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic. "When Eovaldi is right, he's dominant, and he certainly showed in the postseason that he's a selfless teammate -- something that's important to [new Giants president of baseball operations Farhan] Zaidi and to the holdovers in the Giants' front office.

" ... Any pitcher with Eovaldi's injury history might scare them off from the start. [But] with the Dodgers, Zaidi wasn't scared off by injuries. They took big swings to try to add rotation depth, and Eovaldi certainly would fit with Zaidi's past pursuits."

Lack of counter-offer suggests Harper might not return to Washington
Nov. 15: The timing of the report that Harper rejected a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nats during the final week of the regular season -- during the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., last week -- presented plenty of intrigue. On one hand, Harper's representatives might have had incentive to set the floor for any negotiations, but the club might have also had incentive to show that it made a strong effort to retain Harper.

Either way, the fact that no news has surfaced that Harper's camp made a counter offer to Washington suggests that the longstanding face of the franchise likely won't be back, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

"I think he's gone from Washington," Nightengale said on the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast with Buster Olney recently. "The fact that he never even bothered to make a counter offer or even talk about it, I think he wants at least, he's looking at least for $400 million, probably 12 or 13 years at about $35 [million] per year."

Video: Collier on Nationals' huge offer to Harper, pursuit

That figure will likely be out of the Nats' price range. The club is in the market for starting pitching and catching, and have been linked to some prominent players to fill those voids, such as Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel -- the top two free-agent pitchers -- as well as Yasmani Grandal, the market's top backstop, and the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto, who Washington pursued in the past before the asking price became too high.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo has said that the club will continue to pursue Harper in free agency, but that the club's offer from the final week of the season is no longer on the table, per Nightengale. It wasn't immediately clear if Scott Boras, Harper's agent, made a counteroffer. Boras is known notoriously for pushing his clients to free agency and an opening bidding field. 

Nightengale speculated that the Phillies are the favorites to land Harper, but he also didn't discount the White Sox, who hope to climb back to contention after a massively disappointing 2018. 

Video: Bryce Harper's likelihood of joining the Phillies

"I think the Phillies are a very desperate team," Nightengale said. "They've got a ton of money. They made it clear: 'We want to spend money. We want to win right now.' So I think they'll do everything possible to sign Harper, no matter what the price is ... I'd be stunned if he doesn't end up with the Phillies."

Boras is known to be close with Phillies principal owner John Middleton, and it's been no secret that the club is perhaps the favorite to land Harper.

Are the Yankees gearing up for a serious pursuit of Machado? Will A-Rod play a part?
Nov. 15: Count MLB Network insider Jon Heyman among those who expect the Yankees to make a serious run at free-agent infielder Manny Machado, despite team owner Hal Steinbrenner saying that he found Machado's comments on his lack of hustle "troubling."

"I think [ownership loves] the guys that want to play for the Yankees," Heyman said Thursday on WFAN. "And Machado, they know that he wants to be a Yankee, or have heard that."

Heyman pointed to Alex Rodriguez's relationship with Machado as a potential factor that could sway the Yankees toward the 26-year-old. Rodriguez, who maintains an advisor role in the organization, has known Machado since the latter was a teenager, with both players having a connection through the Miami baseball scene.

Steinbrenner expressed some reservations about Machado on Wednesday, stemming from the shortstop's controversial interview with Ken Rosenthal during the postseason about not being a "Johnny Hustle" type of player.

"If it's a $300 million guy or a $10 million guy, clearly those comments are troubling," Steinbrenner said. "That's really [general manager Brian Cashman's] job, if we're interested in any player, to sit down with them face-to-face and ask them, 'Where did this come from? What was the context around the entire interview? Was there a point? How do you justify it?'

"Because that ain't going to sell where we play baseball."

But Heyman thinks Steinbrenner's comments were merely a case of the owner "saying the right thing."

"If you say that you don't mind that he didn't hustle, then you're not really doing the right thing," Heyman said. "Publicly, you've gotta take a big stand on pro hustling, it's not a difficult concept. So I think [Steinbrenner] just said the right thing."

Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay shared similar thoughts on his radio show Wednesday about the club's interest in Machado.

"The feeling I get, is that the Yankees are in, in a serious way, on Manny Machado," Kay said. "Now, Brian Cashman has said ... 'he's on the radar.' I think he's more than on the radar."

Tweet from @YESNetwork: .@RealMichaelKay: "The Yankees are IN, in a serious way, on Manny Machado." pic.twitter.com/yn5J9bYDx6

Heyman: Marlins don't want to trade Realmuto within the NL East
Nov. 15: Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto is one of the hottest names on the trade market, and Miami may have four potential suitors in its own division, as the Nationals, Mets, Phillies and Braves could all use a backstop. However, the fan bases of those teams might not want to get too hopeful.

As he mentioned Thursday in an appearance on WFAN, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing that the Marlins don't want to trade Realmuto within the National League East.

Realmuto's agent, Jeff Berry, made it clear in October that his client has no intention of signing a long-term contract extension with the Marlins, who have control over the catcher for two more seasons before he can become a free agent. Berry also predicted Realmuto "will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of Spring Training."

Even if they exclude the NL East from trade talks, the Marlins will likely still have plenty of teams that are interested in acquiring Realmuto, including the Astros.

In his story (subscription required) looking at one move each 2018 postseason team needs to make to get back to October, The Athletic's Jim Bowden named Realmuto as the player Houston should target, writing that the catcher is "worth giving up an elite prospect for."

Harper to the Yankees inevitable?
Nov. 15: While the Yankees have said their main focus this offseason is starting pitching, WEEI's John Tomase suggests one of this offseason's biggest prizes could still end up in pinstripes.

"For now, the Yankees aren't considered favorites to land [Bryce] Harper," Tomase writes. " ... But forgive me for thinking that somehow, someway, the Yankees end up playing a role in this before it's over. It would be a New York kind of move, especially in the wake of a fourth World Series title for the Red Sox since 2004. It could be justified by Harper's age, and man would it make Red Sox-Yankees even more compelling."

Harper has said that he wears the No. 34 because the two digits add up to 7, Mickey Mantle's number. And as a young, exciting and sometimes polarizing superstar, he fits the mold of past Yankee free-agent signings over the years. As for room in New York's outfield, the Yankees re-signed Brett Gardner earlier this offseason, making it a full house. But Tomase argues that the 35-year-old Gardner may not be the answer given his age, and Aaron Hicks is tradable. 

One way or the other, the Yankees being in play for Harper would be very intriguing, to say the least.

Bumgarner's trade value not what it once was
Nov. 15: As the Giants tumbled out of contention last summer and began selling pieces such as Andrew McCutchen, ownership steadfastly told management not to make Madison Bumgarner available. But now, under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, that approach might shift, though how much Bumgarner might bring back in return is perhaps not as prosperous as it once was.  

"Teams are saying, 'You know, that might be a player you might want to move sooner rather than later,'" ESPN's Buster Olney said recently on the Baseball Tonight podcast.

"He's a legacy player, but I think if someone walks into that job now as Farhan is and takes a clear-eyed look at the situation, absolutely you would put Bumgarner out on the trade market because especially from what I'm hearing from other teams is there are metrics on Bumgarner that are not promising, especially the damage done by opposing teams to his fastball."

Bumgarner ditched his four-seamer last year and went exclusively to his sinker, which averaged just 90.8 mph and surrendered a .301 opposing batting average and .578 opposing slugging percentage, according to Statcast™ -- alarmingly high for an offering he went to 34.4 percent of the time. Bumgarner has the delivery and deception to work off his secondary pitches, but the setup offering presents concern. 

Bumgarner also suffered significant injuries in consecutive seasons that may have contributed to his effectiveness. In 2016, he separated his pitching shoulder in a dirt bike accident during on off day in Colorado, and last spring, he fractured his fifth metacarpal in his pitching hand on a comebacker that cost him the first two-plus months of the season. Prior, Bumgarner had never been on the disabled list over his first eight seasons in the Majors. 

"It's not the same Madison Bumgarner," USA Today's Bob Nightengale told Olney on the podcast. "It's not the Bumgarner that was a World Series hero or anything like that. He's not been the same guy since the injuries. So now with a full winter to recover and everything else, I think [the Giants] need for him to have a dominant spring and a dominant start [to the regular season] and then maybe they can move him. I don't see them locking themselves up with Bumgarner because you know what you're going to get. I don't think you're going to get that much from him on the trade market."

Bumgarner has two years left at $12 million per year on what's played out to be a very team-friendly deal. That might make him a coveted target, but the closer he comes to reaching free agency, the less valuable he will become, Nightengale suggests. 

"I think they wait to see if they're in the race or out of it by the All-Star break next year," Nightengale said. "I do believe they'll listen to offers on Bumgarner, but I think they're going to find themselves stunned by how little interest there is in him. I mean, he's a free agent in a year."

A one-year 'make-good' contract for Donaldson with the Twins?
Nov. 15: ESPN 1500's Touch 'Em All Podcast featured a discussion Thursday about whether the Twins should make a run at free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson. The signing of Donaldson would mean Minnesota could move Miguel Sano to first, and if Donaldson remains healthy and returns to form in 2019, that could mean a vast improvement in production from the hot corner.

"He's only 32, he's only three years removed from an MVP season ... Josh Donaldson on a 'make-good' one- or two-year contract ... I think if you strike out on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, I think if you were to bring in Josh Donaldson, move Miguel Sano to first base and/or DH, and Tyler Austin and Miguel Sano could fight over first base and DH, and if you put a bona fide -- if he's healthy -- bona fide, solidified, stud player at that position, that makes it a lot easier to stomach the Twins' lineup going in[to '19]."

Donaldson was the AL MVP in '15, but was limited to 52 games last season due to injury. Between the Blue Jays and Indians, to whom he was traded in August, Donaldson hit .246/.352/.449 with eight home runs. The season prior, he belted 33 homers in just 113 games for Toronto.

Would Roberts move up the coast if no deal gets done with the Dodgers?
Nov. 15: Though it appeared the Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts were nearing a multi-year contract extension last week, the two sides appear to be at a standstill at the moment, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for Fancred Sports. Heyman suggests that while Roberts -- who has guided Los Angeles to the World Series in back-to-back seasons -- has many reasons to prefer to stay with the Dodgers, he might consider joining ex-Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi in San Francisco if a deal can't be worked out.

Zaidi joined the Giants' front office as its new president of baseball operations earlier this month. The mutual familiarity between Zaidi and Roberts, coupled with the fact that longtime Giants skipper Bruce Bochy has one year remaining on his contract, makes a reunion by the Bay possible.

Grandal's postseason woes could scare suitors
Nov. 15: Grandal was worth 3.6 fWAR and 125 wRC+ last year -- trailing only J.T. Realmuto, perhaps the most coveted trade chip this offseason -- yet some scouts question whether the veteran catcher's October ghosts will catch up with him in free agency. 

In a recent article by ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required), multiple front-office evaluators suggested that while Grandal is a rare breed of being one of the game's best catchers both offensively and defensively, it might be hard for some clubs to look past his past two postseasons, when he was essentially benched for Austin Barnes. 

"Do you forget the bad stuff from October, and focus on all of the good stuff from the summer?" one AL evaluator asked, per Olney. 

Over 32 career postseason games, all over his past four seasons with the Dodgers, Grandal has slashed .107/.264/.200 with 35 strikeouts across 92 plate appearances. Even for his prowess at pitch framing, Grandal was on the wrong end of four passed balls this past October alone. 

Video: NLCS Gm 3: Grandal discusses defensive performance

"You figure that whatever team signs him will probably be one of the clubs that cares about the subtle [good] stuff he does on defense," another evaluator told Olney. 

Olney notes that the Astros, Nationals, Braves, Angels and Mets are in the market for a catcher, as are the Dodgers, whom Grandal turned down a qualifying offer from. So there's clearly interest from his incumbent club, even if it's not necessarily long term. And Realmuto, who might affect Grandal's market, is reportedly attached to an incredibly high asking price from the Marlins via a trade. 

Olney suggested that the White Sox could be a potential suitor for Grandal. After three full seasons in rebuild mode, Chicago is looking to contend again, and it has been linked to the market's top talent.

"There is skepticism the White Sox will, in the end, land either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, and Grandal might be the next-best position player fit for the White Sox, if they believe Grandal is the right guy to work with a very young group of starting pitchers," Olney writes. 

As MLB.com's Mike Petriello noted recently, the 2018 season was one of the weakest in MLB history in terms of catcher production. In that context, Grandal would appear valuable. But some teams also account for postseason performances, and Grandal's have been glaringly poor.

Eovaldi's right arm gets a clean bill of health
Nov. 15: While some front offices may be wary of free agent Nathan Eovaldi's health, especially after the right-hander just went through a taxing postseason, his doctor gave him a glowing review following a routine visit Tuesday.

"To me, he's over Tommy John surgery and he's over revision Tommy John surgery," Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees' team physician who operated on Eovaldi's elbow and forearm in 2016, told NBC Sports Boston. "And I would consider him in the same category of somebody who has a healthy arm, and whatever worry I have about that player, I have the same or less for Nate.

As Ahmad noted, Eovaldi has undergone two Tommy John surgeries during his career, the second one coming in 2016. This past season was his first since that second procedure, and he threw 111 innings during the regular season.

Eovaldi possesses incredible velocity, averaging 97.2 mph with his four-seam fastball in the regular season and nearly 99 mph in the playoffs, getting it as high as 101.6 mph, per Statcast™, which puts extra stress on his arm.

The 28-year-old was used in a variety of roles during the postseason, and he made three appearances in the span of four days during the World Series, the final one a 97-pitch outing on one day of rest. However, he appears to have come through no worse for the wear.

"Sometimes subtle features can be picked up that the ligament's acting a little weak, like small bone spurs forming often can be a sign that the ligament is a little loose or acting weak," Ahmad said. "Bone spurs form to compensate. No bone spurs. And even coming off an extended postseason, he didn't have any muscle problems like muscle strain patterns. So essentially, his elbow checked out as well as it could be after having a second-time Tommy John surgery."

Should signing Harper be the Dodgers' priority?
Nov. 15: After re-signing Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers may be preparing for a relatively quiet offseason. But The Athletic's Jim Bowden thinks the club should look to make a massive splash by signing one of the biggest names on the free-agent market: Bryce Harper.

In his story (subscription required) looking at one move each 2018 postseason team needs to make to get back to October, Bowden writes that Harper to the Dodgers "makes too much sense," even if the club is saying it isn't planning on significantly increasing payroll.

The Dodgers reportedly tried to acquire Harper via waivers in August, and after losing in the World Series for the second straight season, it wouldn't be a major surprise if they bid on the slugger in an effort to get over the hump.

As Bowden points out, Harper would give the Dodgers' lineup a strong left-right balance, and his star power would be a major marketing point in Los Angeles.

Could Beane pull off another surprise by signing Corbin?
Nov. 15: The A's were one of baseball's biggest surprises in 2018, winning 97 games after starting the year with MLB's lowest payroll, and The Athletic's Jim Bowden thinks executive president of baseball operations Billy Beane should look to pull off another big stunner this offseason by signing Patrick Corbin.

In his story (subscription required) looking at one move each 2018 postseason team needs to make to get back to October, Bowden points out that the small-market A's have the resources to sign at least one starting pitcher to a big-money deal. With Oakland's defense, pitcher-friendly home park and lineup, Bowden considers the club a perfect landing spot for Corbin.

Beyond Sean Manaea, who may miss all of 2019 following left shoulder surgery, the A's relied heavily on journeymen in the rotation this past season, with Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson and Mike Fiers combining to make 63 starts for Oakland. All four of those hurlers are free agents, leaving the A's with an uncertain rotation picture.

Do the Indians have the payroll flexibility to add Pollock?
Nov. 15: Cleveland took a small step towards addressing its outfield questions when it acquired 25-year-old Jordan Luplow from Pittsburgh on Wednesday, but adding an All-Star-caliber starter in the outfield would still be one of the most signficant improvements that the Tribe could make for 2019. That's why Jim Bowden writes for The Athletic that the Indians should take a chance on A.J. Pollock.

When Pollock is healthy, he's an MVP-caliber talent, as he showed in his 2015 season, when he hit .315/.367/.498 with 20 homers and 39 steals while winning the National League Gold Glove Award in center field. And despite playing only 113 games in 2018 -- indicative of his injury-riddled career -- he still set a career high with 21 long balls, with 11 homers and nine steals in just his first 40 games of the season.

The 30-year-old center fielder appears to be completely healthy now, and as a reunion with Michael Brantley appears to be off the table, Pollock represents the best option on the market for a team not willing to pay the steep price for Bryce Harper. With Brantley and Josh Donaldson on their way out of Cleveland, Pollock's powerful bat would go a long way in adding length to a lineup featuring Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.

It remains to be seen whether Cleveland will be willing to make a pricey commitment to Pollock as it looks to rein in its payroll, as Lindor and Trevor Bauer will command huge raises in arbitration this offseason.

Why the Red Sox should consider re-signing Kimbrel
Nov. 15: While a number of key contributors from the Red Sox's historic 2018 season are now free agents, The Athletic's Jim Bowden thinks (subscription required) it's imperative that the club re-sign one of them, in particular, and that's closer Craig Kimbrel.

In terms of average annual value (AAV), Kimbrel is projected to land a deal similar to those signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), Mark Melancon (four years, $62 million), Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) in recent offseasons.

Boston had baseball's highest payroll this past season, but it might be hesitant to give Kimbrel such a large deal. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Xander Bogaerts are set to hit free agency next offseason, and Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. the year after. The Red Sox likely can't keep all of them, even if they don't re-sign Kimbrel.

But Bowden writes that Boston should look to keep as much of the 2018 team together as possible to make another run at a World Series title in '19, and argues that Kimbrel can't be easily replaced, as one of the few elite closers in the game.

To ease the burden on their bullpen, could the Brewers consider Keuchel?
Nov. 15: The Brewers won the National League Central and made it to Game 7 of the NL Championship Series while relying heavily on their bullpen, but The Athletic's Jim Bowden thinks the club needs to improve its starting rotation to ease the burden on its relief corps in 2019.

In his story (subscription required) looking at one move each 2018 postseason team needs to make to get back to October, Bowden names Dallas Keuchel as a perfect fit for Milwaukee.

"[Keuchel] would slide nicely in the rotation, bring more leadership, and with his strong character and sense of humor, would be a match made in heaven in the Brewers clubhouse," Bowden writes.

Just four pitchers threw at least 100 innings for the Brewers in 2018, and two -- Brent Suter and Chase Anderson -- didn't appear in the postseason. Overall, the club ranked 19th in innings thrown by starters, and fifth in innings by the 'pen.

Could the Cubs sign Brantley and shop Schwarber?
Nov. 15: The Cubs may be unwilling to hand out $300 million or more to Bryce Harper or Manny Machado this offseason, but The Athletic's Jim Bowden doesn't think that will prevent the team from improving.

In his story (subscription required) looking at one move each 2018 postseason team needs to make to get back to October, Bowden names Michael Brantley as a player Chicago should pursue for left field.

Bowden argues Brantley would be an upgrade over Kyle Schwarber on defense, and the 31-year-old's contact-heavy approach could help eliminate some of the offensive inconsistency that plagued the club in 2018.

While Chicago ranked ninth overall in runs scored this past season, it also had one or no runs 39 times -- the second most in the Majors after the Orioles.

As part of Bowden's plan, the Cubs could flip Schwarber to an American League team to address another need after inking Brantley.

Cruz can still provide great value despite his age
Nov. 15: While free agents in their mid-to-late 20s, such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi, will dominate the conversation during Hot Stove season, there are a number of players in their late 30s and early 40s who still have plenty to offer, as MLB.com's Will Leitch wrote Thursday.

Nelson Cruz is arguably the most prominent member of that group, coming off an age-37 season in which he hit 37 homers, drove in 97 runs and produced a 135 OPS+.

The underlying metrics suggest Cruz is poised for continued success, as he finished 2018 with the seventh-highest hard-hit rate (51.3 percent) and the 11th-highest barrel-per-plate-appearance rate (9.3 percent) in the Majors, according to Statcast™ (min. 150 batted-ball events).

The slugger has played just nine games in the field over the past two seasons, so his suitors will likely be limited to the American League, with the Astros and Twins considered the favorites. But Leitch argues every AL team could benefit from adding Cruz to its lineup.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman echoed that view in an article for Fancred Sports looking at 35 under-the-radar free agents. Heyman advises teams not to bet against Cruz, even though Kendrys Morales' three-year, $33 million contract with the Blue Jays hasn't gone well.

Sources: Astros eye trade markets for C, SP

Marlins' All-Star catcher Realmuto a likely target for Houston
MLB.com @_dadler

A World Series title in 2017, a trip to the American League Championship Series in 2018, back-to-back 100-plus-win seasons and AL West titles, a loaded roster with multiple MVP and Cy Young candidates -- and the Astros are still looking to improve.

Houston is targeting multiple areas this offseason, catcher and starting pitching chief among them. The Astros could make upgrades in free agency, but they actually might be turning their attention toward the trade front.

A World Series title in 2017, a trip to the American League Championship Series in 2018, back-to-back 100-plus-win seasons and AL West titles, a loaded roster with multiple MVP and Cy Young candidates -- and the Astros are still looking to improve.

Houston is targeting multiple areas this offseason, catcher and starting pitching chief among them. The Astros could make upgrades in free agency, but they actually might be turning their attention toward the trade front.

Sources told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi on Friday that the Astros "are more active in trade discussions than free-agent negotiations." As far as the starting rotation goes, they're casting a wide net. With regard to catcher, it looks like they're focusing on Marlins All-Star J.T. Realmuto.

The Astros will need at least one starting pitcher, and they're not limiting themselves as to who it could be. One executive told Morosi that Houston is "inquiring on nearly every starter available" on the trade market.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: #Astros, in need of at least one starting pitcher, are more active in trade discussions than free agent negotiations, sources say. They are inquiring on nearly every available starter via trade, as one exec told me. @MLB @MLBNetwork

The Astros already have maybe MLB's best one-two starting pitcher combination in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but they could lose both Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton to free agency, and Lance McCullers Jr. will miss the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. That leaves the back end of the rotation more in flux. Houston has options like Collin McHugh and Josh James, but the ballclub will be looking to add.

Video: Altuve on knee injury, McCullers' Tommy John surgery

The catcher position is also a major need. With Martin Maldonado and Brian McCann hitting free agency, the Astros' current top option is Max Stassi, who had a hot start to 2018 but faded through the summer. If they could swing a trade for Realmuto, it would be a huge get -- the 27-year-old is one of the best catchers in baseball on both sides of the ball.

Realmuto would be expensive, but the Astros and Marlins remain in contact, per Morosi -- and Houston would be a viable destination, especially because one of the Astros' chief competitors for Realmuto, the Braves, play in the National League East. The Marlins would prefer not to deal Realmuto within the division.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: #Astros remain a viable destination for Realmuto despite the high price tag, in part because #Marlins prefer not to trade him within the division to the #Braves, who are actively looking for a catcher. @MLB @MLBNetwork

What exactly would it take to get Realmuto? A source told Morosi that the Marlins have maintained that at least one of the Astros' top two prospects -- 21-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker or 21-year-old right-hander Forrest Whitley -- be included in any trade. Both Tucker and Whitley rank among baseball's top 10 overall prospects, per MLB Pipeline, with Tucker at No. 5 and Whitley at No. 8.

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

Houston Astros

10 best players still seeking an MVP nod

MLB.com @williamfleitch

Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich won the 176th and 177th MVP Awards on Thursday. (And believe me, I know exactly how many there have been.) It was the first MVP for each player, assuring them that their already-accomplished careers will not pass by unrewarded. They will not join the list of outstanding players who never quite grabbed the big trophy, a group that includes legends Eddie Murray, Eddie Mathews, Mike Piazza, Paul Molitor and Derek Jeter.

So with Betts and Yelich now on the other side of the velvet rope, here are the 10 best players who are still looking for an MVP nod, how close they've come and whether they're likely to get one someday.

Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich won the 176th and 177th MVP Awards on Thursday. (And believe me, I know exactly how many there have been.) It was the first MVP for each player, assuring them that their already-accomplished careers will not pass by unrewarded. They will not join the list of outstanding players who never quite grabbed the big trophy, a group that includes legends Eddie Murray, Eddie Mathews, Mike Piazza, Paul Molitor and Derek Jeter.

So with Betts and Yelich now on the other side of the velvet rope, here are the 10 best players who are still looking for an MVP nod, how close they've come and whether they're likely to get one someday.

1. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Best Finish: Third place, 2018

Arenado is always going to face the voters' tendency to discount Rockies players -- only one has been MVP, Larry Walker in 1997 -- though it's always worth remembering Arenado will be a free agent after next season. His OPS+ has risen every season since he joined the league, and somehow, he's just now entering his prime.

Video: Must C Crushed: Arenado takes NL HR lead with a pair

2. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
Best Finish: Fifth place, 2018

Bregman received plenty of votes after a monster 2018 in which he led the Majors in doubles and was the best player on a 103-win team. He won't turn 25 until next season's Opening Weekend, and he's well positioned to remain the star on a perpetual contender for the next half-decade.

Video: Must C Clutch: Bregman's first career walk-off homer

3. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Best Finish: Fourth place, 2018

It wasn't long ago that Freeman was thought of as an above-average, but not spectacular first baseman. He has since crafted himself into an undeniable superstar, and perhaps even an underappreciated one. As the young Braves rise around him, he remains the leader and the steadiest force on a team we're going to be seeing in a lot of Octobers. He led the NL in hits and doubles last season, and he won't turn 30 until next September.

Video: Must C Clutch: Freeman's HR gives Braves lead in 6th

4. Jacob deGrom
Best Finish: Fifth place, 2018 (1 first-place vote)

It has been four years since a pitcher won an MVP Award -- Clayton Kershaw in 2014. deGrom was arguably better in 2018 than Kershaw was that year, but he was no doubt hurt by the Mets' fourth-place finish.

Video: ATL@NYM: deGrom hurls 8 scoreless to earn 1.70 ERA

5. Paul Goldschmidt
Best Finish: Second place, 2013, '15

Goldschmidt's last three seasons haven't been quite as incredible as that stretch of 2013-15, but he's still been fantastic, and after a slow start to 2018, he was his old self for the final few months. His best season, 2015, happened to be the same year Bryce Harper had his monster season, and 2013 was the year Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates broke out. The real question: Does Goldschmidt make another MVP run in Arizona, or somewhere else?

Video: ARI@COL: Goldschmidt powers 2 homers at Coors Field

6. Francisco Lindor
Best Finish: Fifth place, 2017

If the Indians ever put together a season where they catch fire and win the AL Central by 30 games or something, it'll be the ideal season to honor Lindor, who is their spiritual leader and a transcendent player. Adding power to his game -- he has gone from 15 homers in 2016 to 38 last season -- hasn't cost him any of his other skills, and he has the added advantage of health and durability. He led the Majors in plate appearances (and runs, for that matter) in 2018. All that talent and he's only 25 years old.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Lindor launches 446-ft dinger off clock

7. Manny Machado
Best Finish: Fourth place, 2015

It's obviously still up in the air where Machado will be peddling his wares in 2019 and beyond, but after the season he had in 2018, it's clear he'll be at the center of every conversation for years to come. He picked a terrific time to have the best year of his career, though his antics in the postseason have opened him up to scrutiny that could cost him votes. But it is obvious that Machado is one of the best players in baseball, and should be for the foreseeable future.

Video: LAD@ATL Gm4: Machado drills three 109-plus-mph liners

8. J.D. Martinez
Best Finish: Fourth place, 2018

Martinez is unlikely to ever win an MVP -- no primary DH has since Juan Gonzalez in 1996 -- but we simply cannot deny a hitter of this caliber. Martinez just keeps getting better. For what it's worth, he did play 57 games in the field last season.

Video: Must C Classic: J.D. Martinez clubs his 40th homer

9. Jose Ramirez
Best Finish: Third place, 2017, '18

We've all known about Lindor for years, but far fewer people saw Ramirez coming. He has put together three magnificent years in a row, culminating in a 39-homer 2018. He went 2-for-31 in the last two postseasons -- but the postseason isn't a part of the MVP vote. Will he and Lindor take votes away from each other for years to come?

Video: Must C Crushed: Ramirez goes yard twice vs. Reds

10. Max Scherzer
Best Finish: 10th place, 2016, '17, '18

Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards, he finished second this year and he hasn't finished lower than fifth since 2012. But he has never made much of a dent in MVP voting despite having won as many Cy Young Awards as Kershaw and more than Justin Verlander, both of whom have won MVPs. Scherzer may have to content himself with those Cy Youngs. If he wins one more, he'll be just the fifth pitcher in MLB history to have four: Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four) and Greg Maddux (four) are the others.

Video: Must C Classic: Scherzer gets 12 straight outs via K

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Jacob deGrom, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez, Max Scherzer