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Next year's top free agents -- 1 for each team

Sale, Arenado among marquee names who could hit the market
MLB.com @williamfleitch

Free-agent season is just getting started, and one of the challenges of assessing free agents sometimes can be separating what they did in the last year of their most recent contract and what they can expect to do in the future. There's not a ton of evidence that players are healthier or better in their contract year than they are the rest of their career, but teams can't help but bid sometimes on what they saw most recently.

So, today, we look at the most prominent pending free agent for next year, the guys who will be playing for their next contract in 2019. These are the names we'll be talking about a year from now come Hot Stove time … though the sort of offers they'll get will depend on what happens next season.

Free-agent season is just getting started, and one of the challenges of assessing free agents sometimes can be separating what they did in the last year of their most recent contract and what they can expect to do in the future. There's not a ton of evidence that players are healthier or better in their contract year than they are the rest of their career, but teams can't help but bid sometimes on what they saw most recently.

So, today, we look at the most prominent pending free agent for next year, the guys who will be playing for their next contract in 2019. These are the names we'll be talking about a year from now come Hot Stove time … though the sort of offers they'll get will depend on what happens next season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Justin Smoak

The Blue Jays actually have several big free agents coming up -- Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales, Yangervis Solarte -- but Smoak is coming off the best season of any of them.

Orioles: Mark Trumbo

That hefty contract he signed before the 2017 hasn't paid off well for the Orioles, and the market has definitely contracted for players like Trumbo since.

Rays: None

Think the Rays are meticulous planners? They have no impending free agents on their team at all. Even Tommy Pham, who is 30 and playing on a minimum contract, has three years of team control.

Red Sox: Chris Sale

The final year of that team-friendly deal he signed in 2013 is finally upon us, and he could be the most coveted a free agent a year from now. Xander Bogaerts is also poised to hit the market, and J.D. Martinez has an opt-out in his deal, so the Red Sox could look a lot different in 2020.

Video: WS2018 Gm5: Sale strikes out the side to clinch WS

Yankees: Didi Gregorius

This is a player who could make himself a lot of money with a terrific 2019, but he just underwent Tommy John surgery and could miss a decent chunk of the year.

AL CENTRAL

Indians: Jason Kipnis

The Indians have three "expensive" players with club options -- Kipnis, Edwin Encarnacion and Corey Kluber -- and Kipnis seems like the one they're least likely to pick up.

Royals: Alex Gordon

It is extremely unlikely that the club will pick up his $23 million mutual option.

Tigers: Nicholas Castellanos

He could be a sleeper option for someone next offseason … and an obvious Trade Deadline candidate.

Twins: Kyle Gibson

He was sneakily the Twins' best pitcher this year. If he can do that again, he could be another Kyle Lohse.

White Sox: Jose Abreu

Both Abreu and Avisail Garcia seem like obvious Trade Deadline candidates this year. It's a little surprising neither has been traded already.

Video: Abreu expresses emotions after Silver Slugger win

AL WEST

Angels: None

Here's another team with no pending free agents. Unfortunately for the Angels, it's for very different reasons than the Rays. Mike Trout has just two years left, friends.

Astros: Gerrit Cole

Here's another pitcher who has made himself quite a bit more money in the last calendar year.

Video: ALCS Gm 2: Cole escapes a bases-loaded jam

Athletics: Khris Davis

Davis will be one of the most fascinating free-agent cases next season. If the A's are excellent again, that'll help.

Mariners: Felix Hernandez

There might be no pitcher in baseball whom the sport will be cheering for to have a great final (?) season in Seattle.

Rangers: Drew Smyly

He'll be on his way out the door before most Rangers fans had a chance to even say hello.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Arodys Vizcaino

He might quietly be the best closer on the market next season.

Marlins: Martin Prado

That extension he signed after the 2016 season feels like it happened in a different lifetime.

Mets: Todd Frazier

Whatever you think of the Mets, they don't have many long-term contracts lying around the roster anymore.

Nationals: Anthony Rendon

It's possible the biggest contract next season might end up going to Rendon.

Video: WSH@COL: Rendon drives an RBI triple to center field

Phillies: Tommy Hunter

The Phillies are clearly ready to spend this offseason, and they should be.

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Jhoulys Chacin

He ended up being their best pitcher last season. Do that again, and he might be one of the top starters on the market.

Cardinals: Marcell Ozuna

If he has the year in 2019 that the Cardinals had wanted him to have in 2018 he might end up the big-ticket item next winter.

Cubs: Cole Hamels

The arbitration hearings are starting to pile up for all those young Cubs stars.

Video: Cubs pick up Hamels' option, deal Smyly to Texas

Pirates: Francisco Cervelli

One of the most underrated catchers in the game. Corey Dickerson's deal will be up too.

Reds: Scooter Gennett

Has any player raised his profile more in the last two seasons than Gennett?

NL WEST

D-backs: Paul Goldschmidt

There are some trade rumors swirling around Goldschmidt, so it's possible he isn't with Arizona next winter when he hits the market.

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig

In case you were wondering whether next year's Hot Stove will lack for hot takes … it will not.

Giants: Pablo Sandoval

That deal he signed with the Red Sox finally expires next year, presuming the Giants don't pick up the club option.

Padres: Craig Stammen

He is destined to be the reliever your team signs whom you're not excited about but is the only reliever you trust in September.

Rockies: Nolan Arenado

Surely they're going to get an extension done at some point … right? Otherwise he's all we'll be talking about next winter.

Video: Nolan Arenado honored to be MVP finalist

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Jose Abreu, Nolan Arenado, Nicholas Castellanos, Francisco Cervelli, Jhoulys Chacin, Gerrit Cole, Khris Davis, Todd Frazier, Scooter Gennett, Kyle Gibson, Paul Goldschmidt, Alex Gordon, Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Tommy Hunter, Jason Kipnis, Marcell Ozuna, Martin Prado, Yasiel Puig, Anthony Rendon, Chris Sale, Pablo Sandoval, Justin Smoak, Drew Smyly, Craig Stammen, Mark Trumbo, Arodys Vizcaino

All 30 teams could use this free agent

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Marwin Gonzalez appears to be a hot commodity in this free-agent market, and the people who have watched him play or called him a teammate these last seven seasons with the Astros couldn't be happier about that. They're not happy that he may have played his last game for Houston, but they're thrilled for Gonzalez, who has made himself a terrific player with hard work and smarts and a relentless will to succeed.

In Houston, Gonzalez is about as beloved as almost any player during a four-year run that has produced three postseason appearances and a World Series trophy in 2017. He's that player you tell your kid he or she ought to emulate -- the one who puts the team first, the consummate pro, the good teammate.

Marwin Gonzalez appears to be a hot commodity in this free-agent market, and the people who have watched him play or called him a teammate these last seven seasons with the Astros couldn't be happier about that. They're not happy that he may have played his last game for Houston, but they're thrilled for Gonzalez, who has made himself a terrific player with hard work and smarts and a relentless will to succeed.

In Houston, Gonzalez is about as beloved as almost any player during a four-year run that has produced three postseason appearances and a World Series trophy in 2017. He's that player you tell your kid he or she ought to emulate -- the one who puts the team first, the consummate pro, the good teammate.

Latest Hot Stove buzz

Gonzalez's enduring Astros legacy will be that he hit the most important home run in the 57 seasons the franchise has been in business. That was on Oct. 25, 2017, in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series.

With the Astros a strike away from going down, 0-2, in the Fall Classic, Gonzalez hit a Kenley Jansen fastball over the center-field wall to tie a game his team would win in 11 innings. Without it, there's probably no World Series parade in Houston a few days later.

Video: Must C Clutch: Gonzalez's homer ties game in 9th

In this free-agent market, some fans will wonder where Gonzalez fits with their favorite team. Sure, they like the guy and appreciate how important he has been to the Astros. They just see their own lineup as set enough that there may not be enough playing time for Gonzalez.

And that's the thing about Gonzalez. At this time of the year, we try to figure out where the best free agents might fit, from Manny Machado playing shortstop for the Phillies to Bryce Harper in left for the Cardinals.

That's impossible to do with Gonzalez. He fits everywhere. He makes every team better.

Need an outfielder? Gonzalez can cover you there. Second base? Shortstop? First? He can check those boxes, too. As his best friend, Jose Altuve, told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart last week, "You have a problem, you call Marwin."

Or as Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., said last summer, "You can make the case he's one of the best players in the league."

Or as his manager the last four seasons, AJ Hinch, said, "That's so valuable to have a guy who can play anywhere."

And Gonzalez is willing to do that. And he understands that part of his value is his versatility and his ability to produce regardless of where he's playing. Last season, he started 65 games in left field, 29 at shortstop, 21 at first base, 19 at second and two at third.

Historical context: Gonzalez is the first player in Major League history to have four seasons with at least 10 games at four positions; left, short, first and second.

Offensively, Gonzalez is one of the best. In 2017, he was sixth in the American League in OPS (.907) and wOBA (.382) and 18th in wRC+ (144).

Gonzalez had a tough first half in 2018. But in the second half, he bounced back and was 14th in the AL in wRC+ (134), 17th in wOBA (.362) and 19th in OPS (.844). He then hit .333 with two doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in eight postseason games.

Video: MLB Tonight talks Marwin's impact on the Astros

Gonzalez has a voracious appetite to get better, picking the brains of a string of teammates, from Carlos Beltran in 2017 to Altuve and others in '18.

Another part of Gonzalez's legacy is that the best stretch of baseball the Astros have had began with the purchase of the team by Houston businessman Jim Crane in 2011 and Crane's hiring of Jeff Luhnow to run baseball operations.

Luhnow had been on the job only a couple of days when he made his first transaction: acquiring Gonzalez, a Rule 5 Draft choice, from the Red Sox for pitcher Marco Duarte.

Gonzalez was 22 at the time, and he would be with the Astros for every step of their rebuild, from back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2011-12 to 100-win seasons in 2017-18.

Now, both sides seem prepared to move on. The Astros acquired infielder Aledmys Diaz from the Blue Jays on Saturday to be their super utility player as Luhnow attempts the balancing act of keeping his team competitive while maintaining payroll flexibility.

We all become accustomed to seeing players change teams. For plenty of Astros fans, the first time they see Gonzalez wearing a different uniform is going to be a jolt to the system. They view him as one of their own. And isn't that the greatest compliment a player can receive?

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

Houston Astros, Marwin Gonzalez

Rumors: Machado, Trout, Harper, deGrom, 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

Reggie Jackson weighs in on Machado-Yankees
Nov. 18: Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said earlier in the week that free agent superstar Manny Machado's comments during the postseason regarding his lack of hustle were "troubling."

Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson, whom the Yankees signed as a free agent back in 1976, spoke to Wallace Matthews of the New York Daily News, saying that Machado's lack of hustle "ain't gonna play here [in New York]."

"I was a pretty good player and I ran hard every single at-bat," Jackson continued. "It takes talent to run fast, but it doesn't take talent to run hard. Effort is the least we can ask of ourselves."

Video: Cashman discusses how to evaluate free agent Machado

Machado is expected to command a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years and $300 million or more. The Yankees will open the 2019 season with their starting shortstop, Didi Gregorius, out of action as he recovers from offseason Tommy John surgery. That puts Machado in play for the vacancy, especially considering New York won 100 games in '18 but still lost to the eventual World Series champion Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

Mike Trout to ... the Braves?
Nov. 18: The Angels have only reached the postseason once during the Mike Trout era, back in 2014 when they were swept in the American League Division Series by the Royals. As arguably the game's greatest player gets closer to free agency -- he'll be a free agent following the 2020 season -- the franchise must decide whether to stand pat entering '19, sign him to an extension, or trade him. 

The thought of trading Trout may be unthinkable to some, but MLB Network analyst Ron Darling was asked what Los Angeles should do, and responded with an eyebrow-raising proposal.

"I would say stand pat if they start strong, just because of the [Shohei] Ohtani factor, but if they get off to a slow start, I think you've gotta knock on the Braves' door," Darling said. "Give them a call and say, 'Empty out your farm system, and we'll give you Mike Trout.'"

The Braves have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and are already stocked with young talent at the big league level to complement All-Star Freddie Freeman as Atlanta enters the '19 season as the defending National League East champion. Adding Trout to the mix, given the Braves' trajectory, could vault them into World Series contention.

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: Trade him, extend him, or stand pat?What should the #Angels do with Mike Trout? #MLBTonight pic.twitter.com/KWCzzwjats

Harper in Houston, and for less than $300 million?
Nov. 18: Several Sports Illustrated writers made their predictions for where Bryce Harper would sign this offseason, and for how much. One of the out-of-the-box guesses came from Connor Grossman, who went with the Astros for $280 million over eight years, with an opt-out after 2020.

"I don't think Harper and Scott Boras are going to find a deal that meets their liking in both length and dollars," writes Grossman. "[Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman won't be swooping in with a 10-year, $400 million miracle. So they'll have to 'settle,' which in this case means breaking the average annual value record, joining an uber-talented team and leaving open the possibility of hitting free agency again at 28."

As for the Astros not being widely considered among the favorites to land Harper (like the Phillies and Yankees), Grossman cites the Angels' surprise signing of Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million deal in 2011, as well as the Mariners inking Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract in '13, as examples of what can happen when you least expect it. A lineup featuring George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Harper would be all the more formidable for a club a year removed from winning the World Series.

MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this month that Houston had a deal in place to acquire Harper at last season's non-waiver Trade Deadline, but it was nixed by Nationals ownership.

Mets not looking to rebuild; deGrom unlikely to be traded anytime soon
Nov. 18: The Mets are unlikely to consider trading Noah Syndergaard or any of their other starting pitchers unless it is part of a plan to improve the 2019 Major League roster, reports MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required). Sources tell Rosenthal that the Mets are receiving significant interest in their starters, but the club is not looking to rebuild.

Rosenthal reported Friday that the Padres remain interested in Syndergaard after pursuing a deal for the righty before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline this past season, but San Diego's best assets lie in its stellar farm system. It's unclear if that hurts the Padres' chances of acquiring Syndergaard, given the Mets' desire to contend in 2019. If it did trade one of its starters for high-end prospects, New York would likely look to flip some of them for another asset that can help the 2019 team.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal is told that a trade of National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is not happening anytime soon, as the Mets will first try to work out an extension with the right-hander, who is under control for two more seasons. Mets COO Jeff Wilpon indicated Friday that discussions with deGrom's new agent could begin next month. New York could look to move deGrom if contract talks are unproductive, but Rosenthal notes the extension process could take months to resolve.

The Mets could also be active on the free-agent market, as new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen promised when he first took the job. Per Rosenthal, a representative for a free-agent starter described the Mets as "very engaged in the marketplace," though another warned not to put too much stock in early free-agent rumblings.

According to SNY's Matthew Cerrone, one underrated free agent that may fit very well into the Mets' plans is second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Van Wagenen has stated his desire to upgrade the middle infield, and LeMahieu has won Gold Glove Awards each of the last two seasons. He's also a very good contact hitter and likes to go to the opposite field, which Cerrone notes would be a good quality at Citi Field.

Are the D-backs making the right move by exploring markets for Greinke and Goldy?
Nov. 18: The D-backs are reportedly shopping Zack Greinke, and possibly first baseman Paul Goldschmidt as well. If that pair is available, it injects a former Cy Young Award winner and a perennial MVP candidate into the trade market. But given where Arizona is, is it wise to begin a rebuild? The Arizona Republic's Kent Somers thinks so.

 "The 2019 team might not be any better even if Goldschmidt and Greinke return," Somers writes. "Pitcher Patrick Corbin and outfielder A.J. Pollock are likely to leave via free agency, and the team still needs another power hitter to pair with Goldschmidt and David Peralta. ... If the Diamondbacks are as serious about building a winner as they say, this is the time to make difficult decisions, such as parting with Goldschmidt, one of the most productive and popular players in team history. ... As distasteful as trading him might be, it's the only realistic way for a team with the Diamondbacks' budget to contend."

Greinke is 35 and has more than $100 million remaining on his contract, which could complicate efforts to trade him. Trading Goldschmidt, however, could bring in quite the haul in terms of prospects for Arizona. The 31-year-old first baseman is a six-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove Award winner, and has a team-friendly contract that expires after the 2019 season.

Which teams could give Indians most appropriate return in starter trade?
Nov. 18: Cleveland is reportedly open to dealing one of its top starting pitchers for salary relief, but given that the Indians remain in position to be a top American League contender, they'll need to find a team that can give them at least some impact help to the Major League roster, with outfield being Cleveland's most pressing need.

With that in mind, Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com examined the teams that might give the Indians the most fitting return for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer. He named the Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Padres and A's as possible trade partners.

The Yankees are still looking to add starting pitching, and have a Major League-ready arm in No. 1 prospect Justus Sheffield, who was in Cleveland's system before he was sent to New York in the Andrew Miller trade. Outfielder Clint Frazier was also a part of that trade and could move back to the Indians. In a deal with Houston, pitchers Josh James and Forrest Whitley would make sense for Cleveland, as would outfielders Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez -- each of the Astros' top four prospects is at or nearing the Major Leagues.

The Brewers have a clear need in the rotation, and Hoynes suggests 2017 breakout outfielder Domingo Santana or No. 2 prospect Corey Ray as possible return for the Indians. Or perhaps the Indians might make another blockbuster deal with the Padres and set their sights on 26-year-old outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who has hit 26 homers in consecutive seasons. The low-payroll A's would likely be a long shot, but with salary relief, they might be enticed to listen to offers involving Jesus Luzardo, their top prospect, who pitched his way up to Triple-A in 2018.

Will Cubs join the fray for Harper?
Nov. 18: Although The Athletic reported earlier in November that the Cubs have "financial concerns that may limit their ability and motivation to make a huge splash this winter," the club may nonetheless be involved in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.

Dan Bernstein of 670 The Score reported Friday that the Cubs are among the teams that are "in" on Harper with negotiations starting to pick up steam.

Tweet from @Bernstein_McK: .@dan_bernstein reporting that the Bryce Harper negotiations are picking up steam and that the Cubs are among the teams "in" on the free agent right fielder. https://t.co/tJn6KQF40G pic.twitter.com/8UfoUewbBg

Of course, the report should be taken with a grain of salt, as Matt Snyder of CBS Sports noted Saturday. The Cubs may simply be floating this as a misdirection to make other teams think they are involved in the Harper bidding, and to avoid backlash from the fan base. Furthermore, Bernstein isn't a known news-breaker, and his report hasn't been confirmed by any local or national reporters of note.

Baseball-reference estimates the Cubs will have a $208.6 million payroll in 2019, putting them over the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $206 million and subjecting them to a 20 percent tax on all overages. Teams that exceed the threshold by $20 million to $40 million are also required to pay a 12 percent surtax. The Cubs will likely fall into that range if they sign Harper for north of $30 million.

Still, a major free-agent move wouldn't be out of character for the Theo Epstein-led front office, which has signed Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow to expensive contracts over the past four offseasons.

Eovaldi receiving plenty of interest
Nov. 18: Nathan Eovaldi hasn't often performed like an elite starter during his career, but his dominant postseason has teams lining up to sign him. According to a report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, as many as nine teams could be in on the free-agent righty.

Cafardo names the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays, Giants, Padres and Red Sox as clubs that are interested in Eovaldi, and notes that more could join in on the bidding.

While teams don't hand out big-money contracts based solely on one strong postseason, it was how Eovaldi achieved his stellar results -- regularly flashing 100 mph heat, mixing his pitches and locating like he rarely has in the past -- that likely made so many clubs take notice.

The 28-year-old also turned in a solid regular season, recording a 3.81 ERA with personal bests K/9 rate (8.2) and BB/9 rate (1.6) over 111 innings.

And while Eovaldi's health history -- he's undergone two Tommy John surgeries -- could give some teams pause, his right arm was given a clean bill of health after a routine checkup this past week.

Add it all up and Eovaldi seems poised to cash in, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting he'll receive $60 million over four years.

Is the trade market the way to go for teams seeking starting pitching?
Nov. 18: On MLB Network Radio's "The Front Office" on Sunday, former MLB general managers Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden discussed the availability of starting pitchers this offseason. Specifically, they discussed the trade market, and whether it's the better way to go for teams looking for starters.

"I think the best starting pitchers right now are on the trade market," Bowden said. "Noah Syndergaard is available, the Mets are listening on him. They want Major League-ready guys. There's Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco of Cleveland, James Paxton of Seattle. I think you have to follow up with [Giants president of baseball operations] Farhan Zaidi about [Madison] Bumgarner, which makes five. Zack Greinke could be available in Arizona, so that makes six. ... It's nothing against Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, good pitchers. But as far as top-of-the-rotation guys, I don't view any of [the starters on the free agent market] as top -- they're maybe No. 2 or No. 3 guys. These other guys are No. 1 guys."

Duquette also mentioned some teams that might have a good shot to land some of the premier starters on the trade market, primarily because their farm systems are among the best in baseball. They include the Braves, Yankees, Padres and White Sox. He also said that he felt Syndergaard and Paxton will "likely be moved."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Looking for starting pitching this winter? @JimBowdenGM and @Jim_Duquette agree the best options available may not be free agents. pic.twitter.com/C2rcGDirPe

If Kimbrel is too expensive, could Miller be a closing alternative for Boston?
Nov. 18: The Red Sox agreed to a one-year deal with World Series MVP Steve Pearce on Friday, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has stated his desire to keep the club intact as much as possible for 2019. Does that mean Boston will re-sign free agent closer Craig Kimbrel?

It's not likely, according to MLB.com's Ian Browne, who notes that with players like American League MVP Mookie Betts and AL Championship Series MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. in line for raises via arbitration, there just may not be room to pay Kimbrel what he is expected to command on the open market. Boston must also reserve some money to re-sign Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts and possibly Rick Porcello when the three become free agents next year.

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.

Anthony Castrovince suggests left-hander Andrew Miller as a potential replacement for Kimbrel. Miller, who pitched for the Red Sox from 2011-14, struggled with injuries last season and did not perform at his typically strong level, but he owns a 2.21 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP and a 13.9 K/9 rate since the start of '12. Kimbrel, meanwhile, has recorded a 1.94 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP and a 14.5 K/9 rate in that same span.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts Miller will sign for $27 million over three years, so he could fit Boston's budget better than Kimbrel.

How will Lowrie need to perform to be 'worth' his next contract?
Nov. 18: Will Jed Lowrie, set to turn 35 years old, suffer a regression at the plate next season? The peripherals of the switch-hitting second baseman suggest that his production could be sustainable in future years, but Devan Fink argues in an analysis piece for Beyond the Box Score that Lowrie will be well worth the cost, even if he does take a step back as a hitter.

Fink cites some trends in Lowrie's hitting that others have also pointed out recently, including Lowrie's aversion to hitting ground balls and increasing trend in his hard-hit rate, to suggest that even if he does regress as a hitter, it shouldn't be significant. He also points to Lowrie's recent performance -- the second baseman's 8.5 WAR (per FanGraphs) over the last two seasons is second-most among available free agents, behind only Manny Machado (8.8) and ahead of Bryce Harper (8.3).

But the crux of Fink's argument lies in Lowrie's superior defense, which sets a relatively high floor for his value as compared to other free-agent second basemen. Lowrie was worth 7.1 runs above replacement as a defender last season, giving him nearly a WAR's worth of defensive value. Based on MLB Trade Rumors' projection of a three-year, $30 million deal for Lowrie and the estimated $8 million per WAR that FanGraphs uses for free agents, Fink writes that Lowrie's defense alone goes a long way in making him "worth" his contract, even if he regresses as a hitter to near league average.

Despite need for pitching, Rangers could shop Minor
Nov. 18: Although the Rangers are in desperate need of starting pitching, they could consider trading the only hurler who is a lock for the 2019 rotation, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required).

Per Rosenthal, Texas may field offers for Mike Minor, who could be an attractive trade target for clubs that don't want to spend top dollar for a free-agent starter or deal a package of prospects for an ace such as the Indians' Corey Kluber. Minor, who will turn 31 in December, is under contract for $19 million over the next two years.

After missing all of 2015 and '16 due to shoulder problems and pitching exclusively as a reliever in '17, Minor made a return to starting last year. The left-hander recorded a 116 ERA+ with a 1.12 WHIP, though he also yielded the third-most barrels (49) in the Majors, per Statcast™, and allowed 25 homers in 157 innings. There's a chance his trade value won't get any better than it is right now.

As Rosenthal notes, the Rangers are seemingly headed for 90-plus losses with or without Minor, and at his age, the southpaw isn't a foundation piece for the rebuilding club.

Could Brantley's contact rate land him back with Brewers?
Nov. 18: Last offseason, the Brewers reunited with Lorenzo Cain in free agency years after drafting and then trading him. Could they follow the same path this year with Michael Brantley?

MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince suggests Milwaukee as a suitor for Brantley, despite the club's surplus of outfielders. As Castrovince notes, the threat of positional excess didn't stop the Brewers from acquiring Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2018.

It's not like the Brewers have an offensive juggernaut. Milwaukee ranked 12th in the Majors in runs scored this past season and tied for 20th in contact rate. Brantley, meanwhile, finished first among all qualified hitters in contact rate, so his skill set fits well in the club's lineup.

MLB.com's Daniel Kramer further explored Brantley's extreme contact tendencies, noting that Brantley has made contact on 91.2 percent of his swings in his career, the seventh-highest mark among qualified hitters in that span. Moreover, Brantley's 4.8 percent whiff rate in 2018 on pitches in the zone was also, by far, the lowest among qualified hitters. That's led to his 9.5 percent strikeout rate in 2018 being MLB's second-lowest.

With that in mind, Kramer also suggests the Braves, Rockies, Cubs, Phillies and White Sox as destinations. Atlanta could hit Brantley leadoff to serve as an upgrade to Nick Markakis and set the table for Ronald Acuna Jr. Colorado has outfield holes, and Brantley's contact ability could play well at spacious Coors Field. The Cubs could gain a true leadoff hitter, while the White Sox could gain a veteran upgrade to their weak outfield bats. Philadelphia has reportedly already made Brantley a contract offer.

What are the pros and cons of the Yankees signing Keuchel?
Nov. 18: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has made it known he's looking to add two more starting pitchers this offseason, and free agent Dallas Keuchel is among the many potential fits. In an article for sny.tv Saturday, Chris Carelli broke down the pros and cons of New York signing the left-hander.

Carelli touts Keuchel's reliability in the regular season and success in the postseason, and he points out that the southpaw's high ground-ball rate (lifetime 58.8 percent) makes him a good match for homer-happy Yankee Stadium.

But Carelli also notes that the Yankees need a top-of-the-rotation starter, and Keuchel may not be a "slam-dunk option for the anticipated cost," which could potentially be as much as $100 million.

There's also a chance Keuchel has already peaked, as he'll turn 31 in January. The lefty showed some signs of regression in 2018, recording a 6.7 K/9 rate (8.0 from 2015-17) with his lowest ground-ball rate (53.7 percent) since 2012.

Carelli believes the Yankees should view Keuchel only as a fallback option if they can't sign Patrick Corbin or trade for James Paxton.

Will a potential TV deal be a factor in whether the Yankees sign Harper?
Nov. 17: Tyler Kepner of the New York Times notes that the Yankees are in negotiations to buy back the YES Network, and that such an acquisition by the franchise may influence whether Bryce Harper ends up in pinstripes next season.

Kepner includes a quote from Harper's agent, Scott Boras, who said, "It's a market within a market that no one's ever talked about." Harper is one of the most exciting players in the game, and his style of play and star power could improve already strong ratings for the YES Network.

Harper has said he wears the No. 34 because the two digits add up to 7, which was the number of his idol, Mickey Mantle. The short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium is certainly an inviting sight for the left-handed slugger, but the Yankees do have a crowded outfield already, and general manager Brian Cashman has said the club's No. 1 priority is starting pitching this offseason.

For the Phillies, is it a choice of Harper and/or Machado ... or Trout?
Nov. 17: The Phillies are viewed as the odds-on favorite to sign at least one (and possibly both) of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. They have the funds. They have the need. They make a lot of sense. But is there a downside to splurging on these free-agent superstars now?

Undoubtedly, Harper and/or Machado would make the Phillies better. But in a story for the New York Post, MLB Network insider Joel Sherman wonders if Philadelphia really is ready for the next step toward contention -- not to mention, the hype and expectations -- that comes with inking such a star.

It's a fair question, mainly because the club's 2018 performance was such a roller coaster. Through early August, the Phillies led the National League East and looked like definite postseason contenders, only to falter to an NL-worst 16-33 record after Aug. 7. Outside of NL Cy Young Award finalist Aaron Nola and maybe young slugger Rhys Hoskins, the players who were supposed to make up the core of the franchise's next contender have struggled to develop at the Major League level.

"Wouldn't the Phillies be better off spending $300 million-ish on Patrick Corbin, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Brantley and Josh Donaldson -- or multiple players of that ilk -- to address a roster in need of upgrading in many spots?" Sherman argues. "That at least keeps them out of the ultra-long-term, big-buck risk that would come with Harper or Machado. And the Phillies have to think a little about future financial flexibility for many reasons, none bigger than that Mike Trout -- who grew up a Phillies fan -- is a free agent in two years."

It's an intriguing approach, especially if Phillies brass doesn't think the club is one star player away right now and would prefer to address multiple areas of the roster while simultaneously taking more time to evaluate players like Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Scott Kingery, J.P. Crawford, Nick Pivetta, Nick Williams and Zach Eflin.

In theory, then, a few of those would take steps in the right direction in 2019 alongside the multiple free-agent reinforcements, setting up the franchise for a run at none other than Trout -- at a time when both he and the Phillies could be in their primes together.

Girardi weighs in on Machado and the Yankees
Nov. 17: Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he's "not sure from a financial standpoint where Manny [Machado] is going to be and how it fits within [the Yankees'] plans," according to NJ Advanced Media's Brendan Kuty. "There's no doubt that Manny's a great player, but there's a lot of great players that are out there. This is a pretty strong free agent class."

Girardi, who managed the Yankees for a decade from 2008-17, sounded as though he didn't feel New York necessarily needed to add the superstar infielder, though there is a vacancy at shortstop to open the season as Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery. Machado is expected to command more than $300 million on this offseason's free-agent market. Girardi went on to say there are a lot of other good options to augment the Yankees' roster after a 100-win season in 2018.

"There are some pretty good bullpen arms that have experience. There are some pretty good outfielders, good infielders," Girardi said. "That's something that they have to decide."

Finding a match for Keuchel
Nov. 17: Where might former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel land this offseason? MLB.com's Matt Kelly takes a look at five potential teams that could sign him, and how he'd fit with each. 

The Nationals are a potential fit, Kelly writes, as Washington is coming off a disappointing 80-82 season and has payroll flexibility, particularly if Bryce Harper doesn't return. Adding Keuchel to a rotation headed by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg would make for what would perhaps be the best trio of starters in the NL.

Kelly also lists the Astros, as Houston could re-sign Keuchel. The left-hander has spent all seven seasons of his career so far with the Astros, so there is the familiarity component. And given Lance McCullers Jr. needing Tommy John surgery and Charlie Morton potentially leaving via free agency, Houston's rotation could certainly use Keuchel back.

Cincinnati is another potential landing spot, as the Reds have indicated they're going to be aggressive this offseason in pursuing starting pitching, potentially trying to sign two established starters. Kelly rounds out the list with the Angels, who will be missing Shohei Ohtani and Garrett Richards in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, and the Yankees, who have made starting pitching their No. 1 priority this offseason.

Video: Will Yankees pursue pitcher Dallas Keuchel?

Keuchel's high ground-ball rate, coupled with his penchant for inducing soft contact, make him a potentially great fit for the Yankees, particularly at the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. But New York won't be in any rush to ink the former AL Cy Young Award winner to a deal, according to Mike Rosenstein of NJ Advanced Media.

Rosenstein cites former MLB general manager Jim Duquette's piece for MLB.com on players whose free agencies may linger. Specifically with Keuchel, the left-hander's ground-ball rate, while high, dropped from 61.7 percent in '15, to 53.7 percent last season. In addition, his strikeout rate is down, from 23.7 percent to 17.5 percent over that span. There are also many left-handers on this offseason's starting pitcher market, including Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley, not to mention potential trade candidates James Paxton and Madison Bumgarner.

Blue Jays deal Diaz. Could Stroman be next?
Nov. 17: With news that the Blue Jays have traded infielder Aledmys Diaz to the Astros for Minor League righty Trent Thornton, what could be next for Toronto?

Thornton, 25, has yet to make his big league debut, but he spent all of 2018 at Triple-A, throwing 124 1/3 innings and posting a 4.42 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 122 strikeouts. The fifth-round pick from the 2015 Draft then pitched well in the Arizona Fall League (20 Ks in 15 1/3 IP), so he is more or less Major League-ready.

That could make the Blue Jays more apt to deal from their starting pitching, namely two right-handers whose names have been floated as trade chips: Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. It appears, though, that the club isn't planning anything any time soon, at least not when it comes to Stroman, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Sources: #BlueJays not engaged in serious trade discussions involving Marcus Stroman with any club, although #Reds are among the teams with some level of interest in him. @MLBNetwork @MLB

While the Reds have shown interest, per Morosi, and we know Cincinnati is in the market for arms, it's possible the Blue Jays would prefer not to move Stroman -- who is under club control through 2020 -- when his value is at its lowest. A right shoulder injury hampered Stroman throughout 2018, leading to the worst performance (5.54 ERA, 1.48 WHIP in 102 1/3 IP) of his five-year career.

Are the Astros preparing to lose Gonzalez?
Nov. 17: Can we read anything into Houston's acquisition of Aledmys Diaz? While it's not a major trade, it does have implications, and it might suggest the Astros are looking to cover themselves in the event that longtime Astros utility player Marwin Gonzalez heads elsewhere via free agency.

The 29-year-old Gonzalez has been a very valuable and extremely versatile player in his seven years with Houston, and the club retains hope of bringing him back, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: For #Astros, acquisition of Diaz is protection in event they lose free agent Marwin Gonzalez. Team still wants to keep Gonzalez. https://t.co/PkSF7J7ynV

The Astros, however, chose not to present Gonzalez -- whose 2018 was solid (.733 OPS) but a step back from his breakout 2017 (.907 OPS) -- with the one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer earlier this offseason. That only helps his free-agent case by not saddling him with Draft-pick compensation, making him more enticing to teams seeking a play-anywhere-on-the-diamond option.

Diaz now is in position to fill that role for the Astros after he bounced back from a poor 2017 to hit .263/.303/.453 with 18 homers while playing all over the infield in his lone year in Toronto.

Video: Justice breaks down Blue Jays sending Diaz to Astros

How likely is it Machado stays at SS when he signs?
Nov. 17: Among the many big questions surrounding Manny Machado's free agency -- where will he sign? how much money will he get? -- is whether or not the the former third baseman will remain at shortstop after switching to that position in 2018.

MLB.com's Andrew Simon examines Machado's defensive performance as a shortstop in 2018. In a nutshell? 

"Not satisfied with being a two-time Gold Glove Award winner at third base, where he was widely recognized as one of the game's best defenders, Machado took a chance moving back to his natural position in 2018," Simon writes. "He had started just 49 games there since his big league debut in 2012, and the transition did not go smoothly. Advanced metrics weren't kind to Machado's performance at short, although his numbers improved considerably after his mid-July trade to the Dodgers."

The likely outcome to all of this, then, may be determined by the biggest question about Machado: Where will he sign? If he were to go to, say, the Yankees, there's a chance he would handle shortstop while Didi Gregorius is sidelined in the wake of Tommy John surgery and then shift to third base upon Gregorius' return. If Machado were to head to, say, the Phillies, maybe he stays at shortstop ahead of youngsters Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford.

In other words, while Machado clearly is superior at the hot corner, he should be capable of playing either position on the left side of the infield, at least while he's still in his prime years. But if his new team has a bigger need at one spot over the other, expect him to fill that.

Why McCutchen and Pollock are the best fits for Cleveland
Nov. 17: The Indians have made some headlines already for the news that they're at least listening to offers on their elite starting pitchers, like Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. In addition to rearranging financial obligations allocated to various aspects of the roster, part of the logic for such a move is that the team is in need of an upgrade in one area in particular.

MLB.com's Mike Petriello breaks down Cleveland's lacking outfield, especially now that Michael Brantley is on the open market, and comes up with a number of possible solutions to help improve the position. The best fits? Free agents Andrew McCutchen and A.J. Pollock.

"It's true that McCutchen turned 32 last month, and that he's not the same MVP-caliber player he once was with Pittsburgh," Petriello writes. "But as we investigated recently with Statcast™ data, there's not any tangible evidence of a speed-related decline yet, and McCutchen has remained durable, taking 640 plate appearances each full year of his career. If you liked Brantley's .364/.468 OBP/SLG, well, McCutchen is projected for .363/.461 -- and he's a righty hitter."

As for Pollock? "Cleveland should sign Pollock, who hit an above-average .257/.316/.484 with 21 homers and good defense," Petriello argues. "It should sign Pollock and McCutchen, really, and let Leonys Martin, [newly acquired] Jordan Luplow and the rest fight it out in left field. Pollock is the only true center fielder on the market, and he's right-handed to boot."

In the end, signing both almost certainly won't happen -- not when the Indians are considering dealing pitchers to alleviate some payroll pressure. And Pollock seems less likely, as he's expected to land a larger contract and is tied to Draft-pick compensation after declining the qualifying offer, to boot.

But McCutchen? His durability and on-base skill set could make for a reasonably priced option for a team that needs to worry about both improving its outfield and minding its bottom line. But there are a host of other trade and free-agent ideas, courtesy of Petriello. More >

Familia could be an overlooked free-agent option
Nov. 17: As clubs looking for relief help this offseason survey a market that includes established hurlers like Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, David Robertson and Joe Kelly, one strong option that may be overlooked is Jeurys Familia. According to MLB.com's Matt Kelly, there are several factors that make the right-hander an attractive option.

"He pitched much more like his former self in a half-season with the Mets (2.88 ERA, 3.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) before helping to fortify Oakland's outstanding bullpen down the stretch [in 2018]," Kelly writes. "And now, as Familia enters free agency for the first time, he could end up netting a larger contract than people might expect."

Video: Jeurys Familia enters free agency before 2019

Kelly notes that while there were question marks surrounding Familia as he began the '17 season on the suspension list after violating MLB's personal conduct policy, and then missed most of the summer with an arterial clot in his pitching shoulder, he had a very strong '18 campaign. Familia remains relatively young (29 years old), has no Draft pick compensation attached to his free agency, showed his durability again last season, and keeps the ball in the ballpark.

As for some potential suitors for the right-hander, Kelly suggests the Red Sox, Angels, Twins, Braves and Phillies could benefit from signing Familia.

Astros join the race for Realmuto
Nov. 17: 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.

Video: Marlins could use J.T. Realmuto as a trade piece

Harrison: "My agent has gotten quite a few calls."
Nov. 17: Josh Harrison joined the free-agent ranks earlier this offseason when the Pirates chose to pay $1 million to buy out his contract rather than pick up his $10.5 million option for 2019. That decision wasn't altogether surprising after the 31-year-old hit .250/.293/.363 while being limited to 97 games in 2018 due to a fractured bone in his left hand from being hit by a pitch in mid-April.

Coming off a disappointing campaign often makes for a tough go on the open market. Harrison, though, expects to have some opportunities this winter. "I would say that my agent has gotten quite a few calls," Harrison said in an interview with MLB.com, "and he's been letting me know people are interested."

At this stage of his career, the veteran's versatility is his biggest selling point. Having played primarily second base the past three seasons, Harrison does have extensive experience at the hot corner and also has seen time in the corner outfield positions, too. "I'm game for anything," Harrison said. "If a team wants me to [play one position], I'm game. If a team wants me to bounce around ... that's how I got my first shot [in the Major Leagues]."

That mindset should help Harrison find a home somewhere in 2019, as clubs are placing an increased emphasis on versatility and roster flexibility.

Video: Harrison discusses offseason, his versatility

MLB's best contact hitter is a free agent

In turnaround '18, Brantley posted MLB's 2nd-lowest strikeout rate
MLB.com @DKramer_

There are only a handful of teams with the financial bandwidth to take on a megacontract that Bryce Harper is seeking. But there is a throng of clubs seeking both outfielders and offensive upgrades.  

Might the Majors' best contact hitter suffice? He is a free agent, after all. And he doesn't come with Draft pick compensation because he wasn't extended a qualifying offer. 

There are only a handful of teams with the financial bandwidth to take on a megacontract that Bryce Harper is seeking. But there is a throng of clubs seeking both outfielders and offensive upgrades.  

Might the Majors' best contact hitter suffice? He is a free agent, after all. And he doesn't come with Draft pick compensation because he wasn't extended a qualifying offer. 

That would be Michael Brantley, who has a well-chronicled injury history and stark platoon splits, and is a below-average defender entering his age-32 season -- all factors that could give clubs pause. But he showed turnaround after regaining full strength in '18, playing in 143 games, slashing.309/.364/.468 while helping Cleveland to its third straight American League Central title. 

The latest Brantley rumors

While Brantley wasn't the AL MVP Award finalist that he was in '14, he re-established many of the offensive tendencies that helped make him one. Here are a few of note: 

He makes contact more than anyone
Brantley has swung at nearly 7,000 pitches over his career and has made contact 91.2 percent of the time, which is the seventh-highest rate among 560 qualified hitters in that span, according to FanGraphs. None of the six in front of him took Major League at-bats in 2018. Brantley's 90.9 percent contact rate in '18 was MLB's highest. The MLB average contact rate since 2009, when Brantley debuted, has dropped marginally in each of the last seven seasons, but he's maintained his mark. 

"We're just in a different day and age now," Brantley told MLB.com's Jordan Bastian last season. "Computers and stuff are telling us different things. Everybody wants to talk about launch angle. It's just a different time. I don't know how to explain it -- the evolution. I just know what's been successful for me in the past and what's worked for me in the past, and I don't want to change."

He rarely misses in the zone
Of the 726 swings Brantley hacked at in the strike zone last year, only 35 missed his bat, according to Statcast™. That's a whiff rate of 4.8 percent -- by far the lowest among 294 qualified hitters. Brantley also posted a .372 batting average on in-zone pitches last year, which put him in the 94th percentile among 222 qualified hitters. 

Lowest whiff rate on in-zone pitches, 2018
Min. 350 in-zone swings (294 hitters)
1. Brantley: 4.8 percent
2. Isiah Kiner-Falefa: 5.9 percent
3. Jean Segura: 6.2 percent
4. Miguel Rojas: 6.6 percent
5-T. Jose Peraza: 6.7 percent
5-T. Joe Panik: 6.7 percent

Consider the lineup protection Brantley would offer his surrounding cast knowing that pitchers are forced to work the black or induce chases. Because if they're throwing Brantley strikes, there's only a marginal chance he's going to miss. 

He almost never strikes out
Given his elite contact and whiff rates, it should be no surprise that Brantley is hardly a punchout victim. As MLB has collectively set a strikeouts record in each of the last 11 seasons, Brantley has posted a career strikeout rate of 10.7 percent -- 21st-best among 560 qualified hitters in that span, per FanGraphs. His 9.5 percent strikeout rate in '18 was MLB's second-lowest

With this profile in mind, who could use Brantley? 

Braves
The fit here is obvious. Atlanta's outfield has a void with Nick Markakis now a free agent, and Brantley offers an uncannily similar profile to the player the Braves are losing. And Brantley possesses better on-base skills, has more power and is four years younger, making him the same age that Markakis was when he signed with Atlanta to help bridge its rebuild. 

How about hitting Brantley leadoff? That could allow the Braves to move Ronald Acuna Jr. to the two- or three-hole and exploit his bat in a run-producing role. Signing Brantley could also position the Braves to trade center fielder Ender Inciarte for starting pitching. 

Video: Bowman on Braves' interest in outfielder Brantley

Rockies
Despite big-name stars like Nolan Arenado and its hitter-friendly home environment, Colorado's offense was one of the Majors' worst last season. The Rockies have outfield holes with the free-agent departures of Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra, and they're looking for at least one (if not two) run-producing bats. 

Brantley's all-field ability and pull power would be highly conducive at cavernous Coors Field, though his defense could be suspect in its spacious gaps. Brantley posted a minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved and minus-4 Outs Above Average in '18.

Cubs
Like Colorado, the Cubs are looking to inject life into what became an anemic offense down the stretch, though they are believed to be working under payroll constraints, which could take them out of the market for Harper or Manny Machado. Brantley checks a lot of boxes for what Chicago needs. 

Despite his defensive limitations, Brantley would be an upgrade in left field from Kyle Schwarber, and he would give the Cubs a true leadoff hitter that they've been missing since Dexter Fowler left after the '16 season. Signing Brantley could also allow the Cubs to package Schwarber in a trade, perhaps to help bolster their bullpen. 

Phillies
The Phils have already made Brantley a contract offer, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, as part of what figures to be an aggressive offseason. They're also among a small handful of favorites to sign Harper, which would limit their need in a corner outfield spot, but if they don't -- and perhaps if they instead sign Machado -- then Brantley would be a logical fit. 

The Phillies took a big step forward in '18, but with an offense that posted 91 wRC+, a park-neutral metric where league average is 100, and their .314 on-base percentage ranked 18th. Assuming Rhys Hoskins remains in left field, the Phils are projected to get just 0.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in right, per FanGraphs, the fifth-lowest at the position. Inserting Brantley in either corner and at or near the top of the lineup would also create more production opportunities for sluggers such as Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, or -- potentially -- Harper and/or Machado. 

White Sox
Coming off a 100-loss season in which they'd hoped to at least move the needle, the South Siders are believed to be in the market to spend this offseason to accelerate their rebuild, which is now working on three full seasons. They have been linked to Harper and Machado, but signing one, the other or both could be a stretch.

Center fielder Adam Engel has been a defensive gem but has offensive limitations. Left fielder Nicky Delmonico is coming off an injury-shortened season, and when healthy, he struggled to a .215/.296/373 line. Outside of a breakout '17, right fielder Avisail Garcia hasn't compiled a full season of league-average production. For one of the Majors' youngest lineups, Brantley would offer a veteran presence and an acumen of the AL Central. 

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Michael Brantley

At least 9 teams reportedly in on Eovaldi

MLB.com

One of the best Trade Deadline additions any team made in 2018, Nathan Eovaldi posted a 3.33 ERA over 12 regular-season appearances (11 starts) with the Red Sox before shining in the postseason for the World Series champions. Having boosted his stock considerably, Eovaldi should draw significant interest on the free-agent market.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the right-hander.

One of the best Trade Deadline additions any team made in 2018, Nathan Eovaldi posted a 3.33 ERA over 12 regular-season appearances (11 starts) with the Red Sox before shining in the postseason for the World Series champions. Having boosted his stock considerably, Eovaldi should draw significant interest on the free-agent market.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the right-hander.

Eovaldi receiving plenty of interest
Nov. 18: Nathan Eovaldi hasn't often looked like an elite starter during his career, but his dominant postseason has teams lining up to sign him. According to a report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, as many as nine teams could be in on the free-agent righty.

Cafardo names the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays, Giants, Padres and Red Sox as clubs that are interested in Eovaldi, and notes that more could join in on the bidding.

While teams don't hand out big-money contracts based solely on one strong postseason, it was how Eovaldi achieved his stellar results -- regularly flashing 100 mph heat, mixing his pitches and locating like he rarely has in the past -- that likely made so many clubs take notice.

The 28-year-old also turned in a solid regular season, recording a 3.81 ERA with personal bests K/9 rate (8.2) and BB/9 rate (1.6) over 111 innings.

And while Eovaldi's health history -- he's undergone two Tommy John surgeries -- could give some teams pause, his right arm was given a clean bill of health after a routine checkup this past week.

Add it all up and Eovaldi seems poised to cash in, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting he'll receive $60 million over four years.

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."

Eovaldi's right arm gets 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."

Which teams could benefit most from Eovaldi's elite fastball velocity? 
Nov. 14: A number of clubs could be targeting Nathan Eovaldi this winter because the hard-throwing hurler stands out from the rest of the free-agent class -- which includes Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ -- with his velocity. His fastball averaged 97.1 mph last season, which ranked third among regular starters behind only Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard. He hit triple digits 10 times, more than any other regular starter.

MLB.com's David Adler speculates five potential landing spots for the 28-year-old veteran, idenifying the Brewers, Giants, D-backs, Padres and A's as clubs that not only need a starter, but could use a starter with Eovaldi's velocity.

The Giants, for instance, didn't have any starters with league-average fastball velocity in 2018 and had the lowest rate of fastballs throwing at 95 mph or greater in the Majors (0.4 percent). More >

Will it be back to Boston for Eovaldi?
Nov. 14: When a team trades for an impending free agent midseason and both parties proceed to have undeniable success the rest of the way, well, it's easy to keep coming back to the conclusion that the two sides will reunite to see if they can't repeat what worked so well. Especially in the case of the Red Sox and Eovaldi, who was such a key ingredient in the club's World Series title.

No wonder, then, that the majority of MLB Network Radio's on-air talent predicts that Eovaldi will re-sign with the Red Sox.

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

It does make sense in many ways, too. Not only did Eovaldi flourish with Boston -- he posted a 3.33 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 54 regular-season innings, then a 1.61 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP in 22 1/3 frames in the postseason -- but the flame-throwing right-hander also would provide a different look for a rotation that has a trio of southpaws in ace Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez. Steady veteran Rick Porcello is the only righty in the projected rotation with any real big-league experience as a starting pitcher, and he's due to become a free agent after the 2019 season.

In other words, bringing back Eovaldi could be a move for next season and beyond when it comes Boston filling out its otherwise lefty-heavy rotation.

Eovaldi ranked fifth-best FA by Sporting News
Nov. 13: Eovaldi's postseason heroics assuredly helped his free-agent stock, but given how this market has long been touted to be one of the best in history, would it be a stretch to say that Eovaldi is among the five best players available? Ryan Fagan of Sporting News suggests as much in a list of 79 free agents he ranked recently, with Eovaldi coming in at No. 5, behind Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Patrick Corbin and Josh Donaldson

"Eovaldi isn't just here because of his stellar World Series," Fagan writes. "He had similar dominant stretches in the regular season, and that type of triple-digit mph late in starts is intoxicating. And like Corbin, he's only 29."

Indeed, of 235 starting pitchers who threw a four-seam fastball in the sixth inning or beyond, Eovaldi's 96.9 mph average trailed only Luis Severino (98.0 mph) and Noah Syndergaard (97.0 mph), according to Statcast™. While Eovaldi likely won't be used in the capacity he was in the postseason -- coming out of the bullpen for both abbreviated and extended stretches -- Eovaldi showed that, even in a year that he came back from his Tommy John surgery, that he still possesses some of the game's most elite velocity for a starting pitcher.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Eovaldi fans Bregman with 101.6-mph heater

What does recent history say about the contract Eovaldi should expect?
Nov. 12: Eovaldi is one of the most intriguing arms on this offseason's market thanks to his postseason heroics, but even just a few months ago, when the hard-throwing right-hander was acquired by the Red Sox at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, he was a high-upside arm with electric stuff but was on pace to post an ERA over 4.00 for the fourth straight season. It was only after he moved to Boston and made various adjustments that he saw extended success and his stock soared down the stretch.

But as the Boston Globe's Alex Speier points out, that might simply have been considered overperformance in a small sample size in the past, but these days, with teams increasingly focused on the promise of future performance and potential, those few months of elite performance with the Red Sox will be enough to land him a lucrative contract.

But just how lucrative? Speier examines a pair of similar cases in the recent past -- Rich Hill of the Dodgers and Tyler Chatwood of the Cubs -- to estimate the dollar figure that Eovaldi might be looking at.

After the Red Sox signed Hill out of independent ball in 2015 and the left-hander posted a 1.55 ERA down the stretch, he landed a prove-it deal with Oakland and locked down a three-year, $48 million deal as a 36-year-old after the 2016 season given just over a year of proven success. Meanwhile, Chatwood landed a three-year, $38 million contract with the Cubs based on his relative youth and track record of success on the road, among other factors, despite his 4.69 ERA in his final year with the Rockies.

With Eovaldi a surer bet than Chatwood and the 28-year-old having pitched 111 innings in 2018, nearly identical to Hill's 110 1/3 successful innings in 2016, the precedents suggest that Eovaldi, eight years younger than Hill at the time, should be in line for a floor of three years and $40 million or four years and $52 million. And it's not hard to imagine Eovaldi approaching Hill's average annual value of $16 million per year despite his injury history, meaning that a best-case scenario could be around four years and $65 million.

Could this potential blockbuster trade add a surprise suitor for Eovaldi?
Nov. 11: It will likely take an offer of seismic proportions to convince the Cubs to part with star third baseman Kris Bryant. Could a package involving Noah Syndergaard do the trick?

SNY's Danny Abriano thinks that a swap of the hard-throwing Mets star for Chicago's former National League Most Valuable Player Award winner would make sense for both sides. And as he goes on to explain, if such a dramatic deal were to unfold, the impact could make ripples around the league, possibily even impacting the free-agency pursuits of high-end starters like Patrick Corbin and Eovaldi.

Why would it make sense for the Cubs? Abriano thinks that despite all of the high-profile names in Chicago's starting rotation, there is still a need for a true ace on the staff. He points to Jon Lester's diminishing numbers, Yu Darvish's inconsistent health and the inability of Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks to consistently pitch at an ace-caliber level as examples of why Syndergaard might be a good addition on the North Side.

Meanwhile, the Mets have a need for a right-handed power bat that could slot in at third base, and with New York reportedly not interested in pursuing Manny Machado, Bryant could offer a tantalizing alternative. Since Bryant hasn't yet hit free agency, if the Mets aren't willing to pay Bryce Harper or Machado to add a franchise-altering face, the Cubs third baseman could offer an outside-the-box solution.

With that said, if the Mets felt confident enough in Bryant's shoulder health to part with Syndergaard, they would likely seek a high-upside arm to bolster their rotation. Though Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco or James Paxton could make sense as trade options, the prospect cost of acquiring one of those arms -- in addition to whatever prospects the Mets might send to Chicago to sweeten the Bryant deal -- might be prohibitive.

So in that case, the Mets might join the fray for Corbin, Eovaldi, Dallas Keuchel or other top starters in free agency. Though the bidding for Corbin and Keuchel are expected to be pricey with the Yankees in tow, new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has expressed that New York remains in win-now mode, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Mets were aggressive in free agency.

Could the Nationals be a dark-horse suitor for Eovaldi?
Nov. 10: While it's believed that the Red Sox are interested in bringing back free agent Eovaldi, the market for the right-hander could be robust. In fact, in an article for The Athletic (subscription required) on Thursday, Jim Bowden listed 14 teams that could be in on Eovaldi this offseason.

The Red Sox and the Yankees are on there, as are the rebuilding Reds and White Sox, who both are reportedly planning to spend aggressively in free agency to improve their pitching staffs.

Then there are the dark horse candidates, with the Nationals standing out as one of the more interesting possibilities.

Washington's primary focus is re-signing Bryce Harper, but if Harper departs, the club may not necessarily look for replacements on the free-agent market, as it has Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor in the fold. Instead, the Nats could use some of the resources they have earmarked for Harper to improve other areas of the roster, including the catching position and the rotation.

The Nationals already have a substantial amount invested in the starting staff, and they may want to avoid handing out another $100 million or more to a pitcher with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on the books, making Eovaldi a more likely target than Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel.

Nathan Eovaldi

Ichiro crashes party, delivers gift

Ichiro has been around baseball long enough that he always seems to know the right thing to say or do at a particular moment. That proved to be the case at NPB saves leader Hitoki Iwase's retirement ceremony. 

While everyone else was dressed up to celebrate the occasion, Ichiro made a surprise entrance in a baseball cap and jumpsuit to deliver a retirement gift to Iwase:

Cubs in need of major overhaul? Don't be silly

Chicago came up short of ultimate goal in 2018, but this is still a talented club
MLB.com @RichardJustice

The Cubs won 95 games in 2018. To put that number into context, in the last 73 seasons, they have won more games than that exactly four times. Only one National League team won more in 2018. That would be the Brewers, who went into Wrigley Field and won their 96th in a one-game playoff that decided the NL Central.

The Cubs won 95 times despite third baseman Kris Bryant playing just 32 games after the All-Star break. Despite right-hander Yu Darvish throwing his final pitch on May 20. Despite closer Brandon Morrow missing the entire second half.

The Cubs won 95 games in 2018. To put that number into context, in the last 73 seasons, they have won more games than that exactly four times. Only one National League team won more in 2018. That would be the Brewers, who went into Wrigley Field and won their 96th in a one-game playoff that decided the NL Central.

The Cubs won 95 times despite third baseman Kris Bryant playing just 32 games after the All-Star break. Despite right-hander Yu Darvish throwing his final pitch on May 20. Despite closer Brandon Morrow missing the entire second half.

Their pitching staff had the NL's second-lowest ERA, and only the Astros in the American League had a lower bullpen ERA. Offensively, only the Dodgers, Rockies and Nationals scored more runs than the Cubs in the NL. That's it. If this is what qualifies as a train wreck of a season, plenty of teams would sign up. But somehow, in the weeks since the Cubs lost the NL Wild Card Game to the Rockies, the narrative has become that they are broken, that significant change is needed. This is silly.

Video: Check out some of the Cubs' top moments of 2018

What the Cubs really need is to get the team they planned on having in 2018 back on the field. Put a healthy Bryant across the infield from Anthony Rizzo. Put NL MVP runner-up Javier Baez at either short or second; he's fine either place. And put Darvish in a rotation with Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Is there a better rotation in the NL? At this point, only the Cardinals and Dodgers would appear to be in the conversation.

Also silly is the suggestion that manager Joe Maddon deserves to be on the hot seat. Actually, given the injuries and other challenges, this might have been one of his best seasons. That the Cubs decided not to extend Maddon's contract beyond 2019 is not to be ignored, either. That'll be his fifth season, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein clearly wants to keep his options open about changing the voice in the clubhouse.

If there was tension between Epstein and Maddon during the 2018 season, that's what happens in lots of places -- and that's mostly a good thing. Smart, competitive people aren't going to agree on everything, and occasionally a few weeks away from the grind is needed to restore perspective.

Was this a successful season for the Cubs? Of course not. When a team is two years removed from winning a World Series, not getting past the NL Wild Card Game is a disappointment.

And cracks were exposed. The Cubs led the NL with 107 wRC+ and a .332 wOBA in the first half. In the second, they were 10th in wRC+ (89) and 11th in wOBA (.305) as Bryant dealt with a shoulder injury, and teams tempted Rizzo outside the strike zone. He led the Cubs with 33 walks after the break, and only Matt Carpenter drew more intentional walks among all NL hitters.

Video: Epstein discusses improving offense for 2019 season

With that pitching staff and with Bryant, Baez and Rizzo in the prime of their careers, the window is still very much open for the Cubs. But because they've traded away so many prospects to fill needs, there's some urgency to win again now.

There are areas that need to be addressed. How about a right-handed hitter to balance the outfield? Say, Minnesota's Robbie Grossman. Or would Tampa Bay part with Tommy Pham?

Like a lot of teams, the Cubs could use a left-handed reliever to help Maddon maneuver through the late innings.

Just as important is that lots of the Cubs' younger players -- Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ -- experienced some growing pains in 2018.

No big deal there. Happens to almost all of 'em. Patience is required as they continue to figure things out. Maybe not all of them will, but the Cubs' strengths still far outweigh their weaknesses.

As wish lists go, this is a short one. The Cubs did not come up short -- if 95 wins is coming up short -- in 2018 because of some fundamental flaw in the plan.

Instead, the Cubs were reminded of how many pieces have to fall precisely into place to win a World Series. At this point, the Cubs are optimistic that Bryant's shoulder has healed and that he'll be the player he has been for most of his career. Darvish and Morrow apparently will be ready to go from the get-go at Spring Training. As for the kids, that's a work in progress.

Regardless, the Cubs seem almost certain to be favored to make a fifth straight playoff appearance. With a payroll already north of $200 million, they've used their only big-ticket move to pick up Hamels' 2019 option. But they may not need to do much more than that.

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

Chicago Cubs

These 5 teams should trade for Syndergaard

If Mets are open to dealing the right-hander, here are the best fits
MLB.com @_dadler

If the Mets make Noah Syndergaard available via trade, he could instantly become the best starting pitcher available.

He's younger and has a higher ceiling than Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi or any of the top free-agent starters this offseason. There have been some big names mentioned on the trade front -- Zack Greinke with the D-backs, James Paxton with the Mariners, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco with the Indians -- but Syndergaard is much younger than all of them (all four are 30 or older), and he has the best pure stuff of the group.

If the Mets make Noah Syndergaard available via trade, he could instantly become the best starting pitcher available.

He's younger and has a higher ceiling than Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi or any of the top free-agent starters this offseason. There have been some big names mentioned on the trade front -- Zack Greinke with the D-backs, James Paxton with the Mariners, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco with the Indians -- but Syndergaard is much younger than all of them (all four are 30 or older), and he has the best pure stuff of the group.

Syndergaard's name is starting to circulate in the Hot Stove rumor mill. On Sunday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal detailed what a potential Syndergaard trade could look like (subscription required), and SNY's Andy Martino has reported that teams' interest in Syndergaard is "serious and real," and that the Mets might in fact be willing to deal the big right-hander, the 1-A in their rotation behind Jacob deGrom.

So where would Syndergaard be a fit? The short answer is: most anywhere. He's just that good. But here are five teams that could especially use a pitcher like Thor.

1. Cubs
When ESPN's Buster Olney reported last week that the Cubs might be open to trading Kris Bryant, Syndergaard quickly came up as one of the players who could be a headliner of a package for the superstar third baseman. The Cubs have yet to show serious interest in Syndergaard, according to several reports, but the fit is there on both sides. Both Bryant and Syndergaard are 26 years old; both are controllable for the next three seasons; both have elite ability at their positions. Bryant would give the Mets a cornerstone at a position where they badly need one, as David Wright's successor at third. Syndergaard would give the Cubs the type of dominant power pitcher they don't have in their rotation. If the Cubs were to ever pull the trigger on such a massive deal, they could, for example, seek out a replacement for Bryant in free agency -- Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are out there, after all.

The Cubs have their share of starting pitchers, but none have the type of arm Syndergaard does. Kyle Hendricks is a command and finesse artist, and Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana all sit in the low 90s with their fastballs. Cubs starters had an average fastball velocity of 90.7 mph last season, second-lowest of any team. Syndergaard, between his four-seamer and sinker, averaged 97.4 mph, second-highest among regular starters. His average slider velocity, 92 mph, was more than a full mph faster than the Cubs' average fastball velocity.

Video: NYM@SF: Syndergaard throws gas to strike out hitters

2. Padres
The Padres are definitely interested in Syndergaard, according to Martino's recent report and another from Rosenthal (subscription required). San Diego also has the blue-chip prospects it might need to get a deal done, headlined by star infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. (the No. 2 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline) and catcher Francisco Mejia (No. 26 overall, No. 2 catching prospect). Tatis might be a year or so away, but Mejia could help the Mets immediately at a position that might be their biggest hole.

Syndergaard would give the Padres an immediate ace. None of San Diego's regular starters in 2018 had an ERA under 4.00, and none struck out 150 batters. Syndergaard had a 3.03 ERA and 155 strikeouts in his 25 starts, and 2018 wasn't even his best season. He had a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts in '16. And Syndergaard's just hitting his prime, so he'd still be an anchor for the rotation when the Padres' wave of the future comes up. San Diego has a ton of young pitching talent in the pipeline, including seven pitching prospects who rank among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 overall -- the best of them being 19-year-old left-hander MacKenzie Gore (No. 13 overall).

3. White Sox
Like the Padres, the White Sox have a slate of talented prospects they could use to put together a package for a pitcher of Syndergaard's caliber. Those include several excellent outfield prospects, which could become an area of need for the Mets down the line with Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce set to hit free agency after 2020. The Mets do want to contend now, but Rosenthal notes that wouldn't necessarily preclude them from taking a prospect-heavy return for Syndergaard, as they could flip some of those prospects for a Major League asset.

The White Sox are an up-and-coming team, with young talent at both the Major League and Minor League level, and they want to open up their window to compete. That means looking for long-term value -- for example, they've been linked to free agents Bryce Harper, Machado and Corbin. But a trade could make sense, too, especially if they lose out on someone like Corbin, who will draw a lot of competition from other teams. Syndergaard would headline Chicago's staff in 2019 and beyond. Imagine Thor and Michael Kopech at the top of the rotation in 2020, when Kopech returns from Tommy John surgery. That could make for one of the most fearsome starting-pitching tandems in the league.

Video: NYM@PHI: Thor fires fastest strikeout pitch by SP

4. Astros
The Astros already have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who might be the best one-two punch in all of baseball. A three-headed monster that also included Syndergaard would be even scarier. And even a powerhouse like Houston is in the market for starting pitching, with Keuchel and Charlie Morton hitting free agency this offseason. The Astros still have their share of high-end prospects in the system, and of course they have their core of young stars at the Major League level. If they had the will to make a blockbuster move, they'd have the resources.

Syndergaard also looks like he might fit the same mold of pitchers like Verlander and Cole -- whose elite stuff has been maximized by Houston's analytics approach. Like Verlander and Cole before they came to the Astros, Syndergaard has an overpowering four-seam fastball, but throws his sinker more often (32.8 percent sinkers vs. 20.7 percent four-seamers in 2018). The Astros convinced Verlander and Cole to scrap their two-seamers, and they rode that change to Cy Young Award contention. Perhaps Syndergaard could do the same. Houston also helped Verlander and Cole take better advantage of their wipeout breaking pitches; Syndergaard throws the hardest slider of any starter, and mixes in a curveball, too. If any team can get more out of those pitches, it's probably the Astros.

Video: NYM@CHC: Syndergaard fans Baez in 6th for his 6th K

5. Yankees
Never count out the Yankees from making a big move. They're in the market for multiple starters, and even though most of the buzz has centered on free-agent options like Corbin and Keuchel, Syndergaard would be even better. (The Yankees were linked to Syndergaard and deGrom leading up to the Trade Deadline, but nothing materialized.) Syndergaard would be a huge addition for a Yankees team that's in win-now mode. New York has made the playoffs two straight years but fell to the eventual World Series champs in both 2017 and '18 -- first the Astros, then the rival Red Sox. Having Syndergaard in the rotation could be the difference.

If the Yankees had Thor, they'd have the two hardest-throwing starters in the Majors, with Syndergaard's fastball velocity right alongside Luis Severino's. Both Syndergaard and Severino have excellent sliders, too. Severino had a 37.4 percent whiff rate on swings against his slider in 2018, and a 38.9 percent strikeout rate in plate appearances ending on the pitch; Syndergaard had a 46.1 percent whiff rate, and a 41.0 percent strikeout rate, on his slider. Severino-Syndergaard would rival Verlander-Cole, or the Red Sox's Chris Sale and David Price, or any other pair of starting pitchers across the league.

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

Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Noah Syndergaard