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Betts, Yelich win first career MVP Awards

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts was named the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player on Thursday, adding an appropriate finishing touch to a magical year for a team that won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and its fourth World Series in 15 seasons, and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich earned the NL MVP honors after leading Milwaukee to an NL-best 96 wins and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

As the Red Sox's first MVP Award winner since Dustin Pedroia in 2008, Betts beat out Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who was seeking his third AL MVP Award, and Indians infielder Jose Ramirez. The other players to win the MVP for Boston? Tris Speaker (1912), Jimmie Foxx ('38), Ted Williams ('46 and '49), Jackie Jensen ('58), Carl Yastrzemski ('67), Fred Lynn ('75), Jim Rice ('78), Roger Clemens ('86) and Mo Vaughn ('95).

• 5 amazing facts about your 2018 MVPs

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts was named the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player on Thursday, adding an appropriate finishing touch to a magical year for a team that won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and its fourth World Series in 15 seasons, and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich earned the NL MVP honors after leading Milwaukee to an NL-best 96 wins and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

As the Red Sox's first MVP Award winner since Dustin Pedroia in 2008, Betts beat out Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who was seeking his third AL MVP Award, and Indians infielder Jose Ramirez. The other players to win the MVP for Boston? Tris Speaker (1912), Jimmie Foxx ('38), Ted Williams ('46 and '49), Jackie Jensen ('58), Carl Yastrzemski ('67), Fred Lynn ('75), Jim Rice ('78), Roger Clemens ('86) and Mo Vaughn ('95).

• 5 amazing facts about your 2018 MVPs

:: AL Most Valuable Player voting totals ::

"It means a lot," Betts said. "It's definitely a special award and something that I cherish, but I think the most important thing is that we won a World Series and got to bring a trophy back to Boston."

Yelich was a near-unanimous winner, receiving 29 out of 30 first-place votes, with the other vote going to NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. Cubs second baseman Javier Baez finished second and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado placed third.

Yelich, wearing a Los Angeles Fire Department cap, celebrated with family and friends, including Brewers teammate Ryan Braun, at his home in the L.A. suburb of Westlake Village, Calif., which has been rocked by a mass shooting and devastating wild fires in recent days.

"It was awesome to share it with close friends and family and people who've had a huge impact in my life," Yelich said. "I told them it was as much about them as me. Nice to see some smiles after tough week for a lot of people out here.

"It's really hard to put into words what this means. You never dream of ever winning an award like this. It's been amazing."

Video: Betts, Yelich take home AL and NL MVP Awards

In Betts' fourth full season, the 26-year-old Silver Slugger led the Majors with a .346 batting average, 129 runs and a .640 slugging percentage, along with 47 doubles, 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases.

He led all Major Leaguers with a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.com; Trout finished second at 9.8. Baseball-Reference calculated Betts' WAR at 10.9, the highest for a position player since Barry Bonds' 11.8 in 2002.

Video: Betts discusses his incredible overall year in 2018

"Just how the whole year played out," Betts said, "a lot of things went right. With J.D. [Martinez] and AC [manager Alex Cora] coming over, they gave me a new perspective and helped me take care of business. I learned so much. Everyone could see the home runs and all that. The things you didn't see was what made the year so special."

Betts is the only player to win the batting title in the same season in which he also had at least 30 homers and 30 stolen bases. He's the first Red Sox player to lead the Majors in both batting average and slugging since Williams did it in 1957. He reached base at least four times in 20 games, tops in the bigs.

Video: Mookie Betts is the 2018 AL MVP Award winner

Defensively, the three-time Gold Glove Award winner had five outfield assists and tied for fourth among all players with 20 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.com.

Betts recalled finishing second to Trout in the 2016 AL MVP voting, saying, "I really wanted to win then. You never know if you'll ever make it back. It's been everything I imagined and more."

As for the AL runner-up, Trout finished second for the fourth time in his career as he continued to construct a Hall of Fame resume and put his name prominently into baseball's "Best Ever" discussion.

Video: Trout talks about always competing on the diamond

Trout was the AL MVP in 2014 and '16, giving him a seven-season run in which he finished lower than second -- fourth in 2017 when he missed six weeks with a left thumb injury -- just once.

According to Baseball-Reference, Trout's career Wins Above Replacement is 64.3, higher than a string of Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield (64.2) and Harmon Killebrew (60.4). He turned 27 in August.

In his first season in Milwaukee, Yelich broke away from the competition with a closing kick that included a .367 batting average and a .444 on-base percentage since July 8. Yelich is the Brewers' second NL MVP Award winner, joining Braun, who won in 2011. Milwaukee has had two AL MVP Award winners before it joined the NL in 1998, with Rollie Fingers (1981) and Robin Yount (1982, '89) earning the honors.

Video: Yelich discusses his first year with the Brewers

In that stretch of 74 games, he had 25 home runs, 22 doubles and a 1.171 OPS. Meanwhile, the Brewers were 48-33 over the final three months of the season and ended the regular season with a seven-game win streak that got them into a first-place tie with the Cubs in the NL Central at 95-67. The Brewers then went on to Wrigley Field and won a one-game tiebreaker for the division title.

"It's an incredible feeling, something you never expect," he said. "Playing Little League, it's hard enough to make it to the Major Leagues. To win the MVP is kind of mind-boggling."

:: NL Most Valuable Player voting totals ::

Yelich's .770 slugging percentage after the All-Star break was baseball's best in 14 years and 145 points better than the next closest hitter, NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves.

"I definitely exceeded my own expectations," Yelich said. "We came into All-Star Game in a tough spot [with a six-game losing streak]. I think the four days to enjoy the game, enjoy the experience, kind of helped me get a reset. It was a magical second half for me and for the team. I think a lot of it was the change of scenery, the environment, Milwaukee. Down the stretch, every game matters. It brings out the best in you."

Yelich was the Brewers' first batting champion and flirted with being the NL's first Triple Crown winner in 81 years. He finished tied for third with 36 home runs (Arenado had 38) and tied for second with 110 RBIs (Baez had 111).

Video: Yelich on winning NL MVP, watching Stanton win in '17

Brewers general manager David Stearns obtained Yelich from the Marlins for four prospects last January. Looking back, Yelich said so many things changed in such a short period of time that he had trouble getting his mind around all of it.

"My situation ended up working out fantastic," he said. "I couldn't have asked for more. I'm thankful it all worked out. You get traded you never really know how it's going to work out. Luckily for me, it all turned out amazing."

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.

Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich

Eovaldi's arm gets clean bill of health

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'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

Rumors: Harper, Machado, Realmuto, Bumgarner

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

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 Yankees gearing up for 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 in 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."

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."

Will Goldy return home and play for the Astros?
Nov. 15: The D-backs may be shopping stars Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke, and as for the All-Star first baseman, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman looks at some possible trade partners in an article for Fancred Sports. Heyman notes there aren't many clubs out there 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 could alternate between first base and designated hitter for the Astros, along with Yuli Gurriel. Or the versatile Gurriel could move to other spots on the infield. Goldschmidt, 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.

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.

Reds' starter search reportedly revolves around Paxton, Gray
Nov. 15: The Reds need pitching and are expected to spend aggressively this offseason, but MLB.com's Richard Justice writes that the contract demands of Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel -- arguably the top two starters on the market -- may be out of Cincinnati's "comfort zone." Instead, Jon Heyman reports for Fancred Sports that the Reds are focusing their search around James Paxton and Sonny Gray, who would both 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 Reds' willingness to pursue an arm via trade in an interview with Cincinnati's WLW Radio on Wednesday.

"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."

According to Heyman, trade partners are, unsurprisingly, focused on the Reds' top three prospects per MLB Pipeline: infielder Nick Senzel (No. 1), outfielder Taylor Trammell (No. 2) and right-hander Hunter Greene (No. 3). However, the Reds might be wary about parting with several top prospects after their experience in trading for Mat Latos in 2011, when they moved four prospects -- Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger.

If Cincinnati were to balk at the prospect price in a trade for Paxton or one of Cleveland's options (Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco), a pursuit of Gray could be a better alternative, though Heyman reports that several teams are involved in talks for him. A reunion with Matt Harvey could also make sense.

Would Roberts move up the coast if no deal gets done with 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 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 Indians have 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 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 burden on bullpen, could 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 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 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.

Lowrie could be free-agent bargain
Nov. 15: When a free-agent class features two potential Hall of Famers in their primes (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado), a Cy Young Award winner (Dallas Keuchel), an elite closer (Craig Kimbrel) and a pitcher coming off a breakout season (Patrick Corbin), it's easy for others to get lost in the shuffle.

Jed Lowrie is among those who aren't receiving significant attention, but could provide notable value as free agents. In fact, Lowrie was listed first in MLB Network insider Jon Heyman's article for Fancred Sports looking at 35 under-the-radar free agents who could pay huge dividends.

Emma Baccellieri of Sports Illustrated also considers Lowrie to be a potential "value buy" in free agency, placing the switch-hitting second baseman among the biggest free-agent bargains.

She points to Lowrie's relatively advanced age (34 years) and robust injury history as reasons why he might not get a contract that will truly reflect his on-field potential in the coming years.

Baccellieri also cites Lowrie's increasing launch angle (following the A's recent trend), his resultant low ground-ball rate and his high hard-hit rate (37.6 percent, per Statcast™, fourth among American League second basemen with 150 batted balls) as reasons to believe that Lowrie's recent success is an indication of a changed approach that will lead to continued production.

Is a deGrom extension coming?
Nov 14: Jacob deGrom just had a historic season in which he led MLB with a microscopic 1.70 ERA while racking up 269 strikeouts over 217 innings -- career bests across the board for the right-hander -- on his way to winning the National League Cy Young Award. Is now the right time for the Mets to lock in their ace, who is not eligible to become a free agent until after the 2020 season, with a long-term deal?

In a story for the New York Post, MLB Network insider Joel Sherman explores what an extension might look like -- one that could be acceptable to both deGrom and the Mets. Sherman's proposed numbers are as follows:

"My concept would be a five-year, $155.5 million contract that would pay deGrom $20 million in 2019, $27.5 million in 2020 and then $36 million annually from 2021-23. The $31.1 million average would beat the annual value of all pitchers except Zack Greinke (I assume positionally that both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will exceed the $31 million average of Miguel Cabrera this offseason). The $36 million would top the most ever given in any singular season to a pitcher. (Max Scherzer has $35 million seasons in his contract.)"

deGrom has performed as well as just about any pitcher over the past few seasons, so Sherman is arguing that it makes sense to pay him as such. Couple that with the fact that new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen -- who, as deGrom's agent back in July, put pressure on the Mets to either extend the star or trade him -- has stated that he sees the club contending and not selling. In that vein of thinking, a long-term pact fits, and in fact, momentum is building around finding ways to keep deGrom in Flushing, SNY's Andy Martino writes.

Working out the details and digits is where things get complicated, however. New York would have to weigh the value of deGrom as their franchise face, as well as his production on the mound against his age (30) and injury history (including Tommy John surgery). In deGrom's case, the question is whether he could be passing up an even bigger payday in two years, at which point he'll be free to negotiate with 29 other clubs.

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.

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 >

Evaluating the over-30 market using Statcast™'s spring speed metric
Nov. 14: This year's free agency is centered around in-their-prime stars like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Patrick Corbin, but there's a number of veterans who can still contribute available on the market. 

It's difficult, however, to predict how an aging star will perform late in his careers, but Statcast™ can help. MLB.com's Mike Petriello looked at the sprint speed -- which tracks top running speed in feet per second in a player's fastest one-second window -- to evaluate some of the top over-30 free agents.

The results revealed promising news for Mike Moustakas -- whose speed recovered in 2018 after a down 2017 that was likely the result of his knee injury -- and helped quantify the affect of injury on Brian Dozier's effectiveness.

Andrew McCutchen hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, despite turning 32 last month, making him a solid fit for a contender with outfield needs, while Daniel Murphy's speed steadily rebounded after he started slow coming off micro-fracture knee surgery last offseason. More >

Betances wants the Yankees to sign Machado
Nov. 14: As the Yankees consider whether to make a run at free-agent infielder Manny Machado, one New York player gave the potential move his full endorsement Tuesday.

"I think he'll put us over the top," Yankees reliever Dellin Betances said. "We were short last year. Things could have gone our way, but they didn't. Adding a guy like that would help any team. Our lineup is already impactful, so adding a guy like that would be pretty crazy."

Betances and Machado were teammates for the Dominican Republic in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and they have plenty of experience as opponents from Machado's years with the Orioles.

"I played with him in the Classic and got a chance to develop a good relationship with him over the years, playing against him," Betances said. "I'm hoping that we get him. I'm keeping close tabs on it. It's not my decision, but that would be a big piece for the team. We have a good team, but adding a guy like that, that can play at a high level and has played at a high level for quite some time, we would be great."

Finding trade matches for Greinke
Nov 14: There's no shortage of quality starting pitching available this offseason, via free agency (think: Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi, etc.) or possibly by way of a trade (read: Corey Kluber, James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco, etc.). Is it time to add one more name to the latter list?

While there hasn't been quite as much buzz about it, Zack Greinke has been floated as a chip in the wake of reports that the D-backs could consider becoming sellers and swapping their two biggest stars -- the right-hander himself and/or Paul Goldschmidt, as MLB.com's Steve Gilbert discusses -- as MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi discusses on MLB Network.

Video: D-backs to become sellers this offseason?

So which teams could be the best fits for Greinke, one of the most durable, consistent, top-of-the-rotation arms around?

MLB.com's David Adler has come up with a list of three strong club candidates, all of whom could use a high-end starter and have the funds to cover all or most of Greinke's massive contract ($104.5 million through 2021), depending on the potential return headed back to Arizona.

Greinke is 35 years old, but he remains healthy and productive, turning in remarkably similar seasons in 2017 (3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 4.8 K-to-BB ratio) and '18 (3.21 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4.6 K-to-BB ratio).

Trout needs help. Can Corbin provide it?
Nov 14: With Mike Trout under control for just two more seasons, the clock is ticking for the Angels to build a competitive team around him. With that in mind, MLB.com's Richard Justice puts the club third on his list of teams that could spend big in free agency this offseason.

Justice writes that Los Angeles needs "pitching, pitching and more pitching," and the best starter on the market is arguably Patrick Corbin, making the left-hander a realistic target.

Given their recent history with pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Angels may be hesitant to pursue Corbin, who had the procedure in 2014. Dallas Keuchel would probably be a safer option, but the Angels can't really afford to be conservative as they try to close the gap between themselves, the Astros and the A's.

With Garrett Richards entering free agency after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season, and Shohei Ohtani also recovering from his own Tommy John procedure, the Angels need an ace. Los Angeles can't lean too heavily on any of the top six pitchers on its current depth chart, as all have dealt with significant injury problems.

Would a Corbin/Donaldson duo be a better buy than Harper?
Nov. 14: The Phillies and the Cardinals placed first and second on MLB.com's list of teams that are ready to spend big this offseason, with Richard Justice noting that both clubs would be a great fit for Bryce Harper. But Justice also mentions a potential alternative for both teams -- signing Patrick Corbin and Josh Donaldson.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman projects Harper will sign for $330 million over 11 years, giving him an average annual value of $30 million. Agent Scott Boras is believed to be asking for upwards of $400 million, and there's a good chance Harper will end up making at least $35 million per year.

Per Heyman's projections, the Corbin/Donaldson duo would cost $38 million on average, with Corbin landing a five-year contract for $100 million and Donaldson signing for $36 million over two seasons.

There are risk factors associated with both approaches, but signing Corbin and Donaldson may have more short-term upside than using that money on Harper alone. Corbin was worth 6.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2018, per FanGraphs, while Donaldson averaged 6.9 WAR per season from '13-17. If the Phils or Cards got the best versions of Corbin and Donaldson, it could put them over the top in their respective divisions.

Rangers reportedly add Mathis on 2-year deal

MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

The Rangers and veteran catcher Jeff Mathis have agreed on a two-year deal, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Mathis, 35, is an excellent defensive catcher, and a favorite of pitchers around the Majors who he has caught for. He is a light hitter, with a .198/.258/.306 slash line over his 14-year career. But his defensive value has made him attractive to big league clubs even as he reaches his late-30s.

The Rangers and veteran catcher Jeff Mathis have agreed on a two-year deal, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Mathis, 35, is an excellent defensive catcher, and a favorite of pitchers around the Majors who he has caught for. He is a light hitter, with a .198/.258/.306 slash line over his 14-year career. But his defensive value has made him attractive to big league clubs even as he reaches his late-30s.

Mathis made his Major League debut back in 2005 with the Angels, and played for Los Angeles until '11, when he was traded to the Blue Jays. After one season with Toronto, he was traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays.

Mathis spent four seasons with Miami before signing with the D-backs prior to the 2017 season.

The Rangers, who have not confirmed the deal, are very thin at the catcher position, with Robinson Chirinos a free agent this offseason after getting the bulk of the time behind the plate for Texas in 2018.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Texas Rangers, Jeff Mathis

Bucs to continue exploring options at SS, RF

Pittsburgh adds infield depth with trade for Gonzalez
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added to their infield mix on Wednesday by acquiring utility man Erik Gonzalez in a five-player trade with the Indians, but they're not done looking for a shortstop or a short-term solution in right field.

Pittsburgh dealt outfielder Jordan Luplow and out-of-options infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland for Gonzalez, who is also out of Minor League options, along with 19-year-old pitching prospects Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza. Gonzalez was used infrequently as a utility infielder for the Indians, but he could play a bigger role with the Pirates.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added to their infield mix on Wednesday by acquiring utility man Erik Gonzalez in a five-player trade with the Indians, but they're not done looking for a shortstop or a short-term solution in right field.

Pittsburgh dealt outfielder Jordan Luplow and out-of-options infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland for Gonzalez, who is also out of Minor League options, along with 19-year-old pitching prospects Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza. Gonzalez was used infrequently as a utility infielder for the Indians, but he could play a bigger role with the Pirates.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

"We felt that he and Kevin Newman provide us with an interesting pair of options at shortstop," general manager Neal Huntington said Thursday in a phone interview. "It does not mean that we'll stop looking, but we felt we've added a quality option to Kevin Newman as we look at our shortstop position this year and even as we look down the road."

Video: CLE@MIN: Encarnacion assists Gonzalez for stellar out

Gonzalez, 27, posted a .263/.292/.389 slash line in 275 Major League plate appearances over the past three seasons. There are some encouraging indicators, like his 89.6-mph average exit velocity and 42.2 percent hard-hit rate last season, according to Statcast™. However, Gonzalez has worked only nine walks while striking out 79 times in the Majors, and he's recorded a 57.3 percent ground-ball rate.

Huntington said the Pirates like Gonzalez's defensive ability and cited irregular playing time as the root of his offensive struggles. It's a common challenge for young players, but the Pirates think he can improve in a new environment.

"You can see a transition in his swing and a transition in his approach as he's tried to figure out how to be an effective offensive player while playing sporadically," Huntington said. "There's impact. He has a feel in the box. He can manipulate the barrel. He's been effective in the Minor Leagues. We believe that with additional playing time, a new opportunity, that he can be a productive offensive player."

As the roster is constructed, Gonzalez would compete (or share time) with rookie Newman to fill the shortstop spot left vacant by free agent Jordy Mercer. But Huntington didn't rule out another signing or acquisition.

"He will have every opportunity in the world to take our shortstop job and run with it if we do nothing else," Huntington said of Gonzalez. "Having him and Kevin Newman internally is, in our minds, a solid starting point."

Video: PIT@MIL: Newman dives, throws for stellar play

If the Pirates do sign or trade for another shortstop, it's worth noting that Gonzalez can play anywhere in the infield and Newman spent some time at second base last season. But second base currently belongs to Adam Frazier, who played well enough last season to earn an everyday job.

The Pirates have also pointed to Frazier as a possible replacement for recovering right fielder Gregory Polanco, who could miss a few weeks or months following September shoulder surgery. Huntington mentioned that option again on Thursday, listing Kevin Kramer or Newman among options at second base in that scenario.

If Frazier begins the season at second base, the Pirates' internal options in right field would be Pablo Reyes, Jose Osuna and Minor League free-agent signee Patrick Kivlehan. The leading candidate probably would have been Luplow, but the Pirates parted ways with him to get Gonzalez and a pair of pitching prospects. That would seem to make another acquisition more likely.

"We felt that we had a better chance to get an outfield corner bat externally that fills the need more than we did getting another quality option at shortstop," Huntington said. "We will continue to explore the trade market, and we will continue to explore the free-agent market to see if there's someone out there that makes us better than our internal options."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Erik Gonzalez, Kevin Newman

Free age-nts: Older players with market value

MLB.com @williamfleitch

Youth is always going to be the coin of the realm in Major League Baseball, or really, in life. There are just things you can do in your 20s that you can't in your 30s, 40s or 50s. (Don't remind me.) The issue with young players is corralling their talent, not locating it. They've got talent to burn.

But let's not forget the old dogs, either. This free-agent season has revolved around Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two unusually young free agents, but there's value to be squeezed out of guys in their late 30s and 40s as well. And I'm not just talking about clubhouse presence and experienced leadership, either. These guys can help you on the field, too.

Youth is always going to be the coin of the realm in Major League Baseball, or really, in life. There are just things you can do in your 20s that you can't in your 30s, 40s or 50s. (Don't remind me.) The issue with young players is corralling their talent, not locating it. They've got talent to burn.

But let's not forget the old dogs, either. This free-agent season has revolved around Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two unusually young free agents, but there's value to be squeezed out of guys in their late 30s and 40s as well. And I'm not just talking about clubhouse presence and experienced leadership, either. These guys can help you on the field, too.

Here's a look at seven free agents in their late 30s and 40s who have plenty left to give. They might not be the young turks anymore, but they're not riding off into the sunset, either.

(For now, we're omitting Adrian Beltre, who is reported to be mulling retirement. If he comes back, he will obviously be in high demand.)

Bartolo Colon (44)
OK, you knew he was going to be on here somewhere. Colon, to be fair, wasn't Peak Bartolo in 2018: He had an ugly 5.78 ERA and the lowest strikeout rate of his career. In fact, Colon hasn't been an above-average pitcher since '16 (and before that, '13). But that just means he's due, right? After all, Colon made All-Star teams in those aforementioned up years, which means that he's just on the every-three-years cycle, right? Well, maybe not, but he still threw 146 innings last year; he'll take the ball whenever you need him to. There has to be one team willing to let Bartolo celebrate his 45th birthday (on May 24) on an MLB diamond.

Nelson Cruz (38)
It is very possible that Cruz will still be hitting 30 homers when he's 55 years old. His numbers took a step back in 2018, but he still had 37 big flies, a 135 OPS+ and, amusingly, a triple. You obviously can't put Cruz in the field anymore -- he played five games in right in '17 and four last year -- but which American League team couldn't use 35 homers? The Twins and Astros are the most likely suitors; if Minnesota signs him, he'll be older than new manager Rocco Baldelli by nearly 15 months.

Video: Nelson Cruz slugs his way to free agency in 2019

Rajai Davis (38)
The great irony of Davis' career is that he was a speedster who will be remembered for a homer -- that shot off Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series -- than anything he did on the basepaths. He had the worst offensive season of his career in '18, but he still stole 21 bases, and he led the AL in steals just two years ago. If Davis doesn't retire, he might have one last October run in him.

Video: Rajai Davis is part of the 2019 free agent class

Curtis Granderson (37)
A guy who played for two teams in his first 10 seasons has now played for four in the past two seasons -- and, it should be said, in the postseason each of the past four years. Granderson still has some of the power of his prime, but, more importantly, he has almost all of the on-base skills. Even when he isn't hitting for average, he can still draw walks. Granderson has his cold spells, but he also has hot streaks that can carry a team for a week or so. Plus, at this point, he's a lucky charm to make it to October. Someone has to get Granderson there for a fifth straight year.

Video: Granderson set to enter free agency in 2019

Matt Holliday (38)
Holliday sat out most of the 2018 season before returning to the Rockies, the team he broke in with back in '04, and he looked glorious in his old duds. He was no slouch as a hitter either, putting up an .849 OPS in 25 games and hitting a double in the National League Wild Card Game win over the Cubs. Holliday is 97 games away from 2,000 for his career, and there's enough life in his bat that you'd think someone would take a chance on him. Maybe he will repeat '18 and take most of the year off before becoming a late-season bat-for-hire. Remember when Holliday was briefly with the A's in '09? He might as well do a full-career reunion tour.

Video: Holliday's first postseason hit with Rox since 2007

Ryan Madson (38)
It may have been for lack of options, but note how often manager Dave Roberts went to Madson in the postseason for the Dodgers -- 11 times. 2018 was a rough year for Madson, who had a 5.47 ERA with Washington and Los Angeles, but that was on the heels of some truly fantastic seasons -- particularly '17, when he pitched for the A's and Nationals and may have been one of the most valuable relievers in the sport. One just hopes that he can ignore his most high-profile critic.

Video: Ryan Madson heading to free agency before 2019 season

Peter Moylan (39)
First of all, baseball can never have enough sidearming relievers; may they outlive us all. Moylan -- who tends to spend his winters as a pitching coach in the Australian Baseball League (and also owns a coffee shop) -- led the Majors in appearances in 2017, but he only threw 28 1/3 innings for the Braves last year. It was a somewhat middling season, though he had his highest strikeout rate in nearly a decade, and we certainly know he's durable. Plus, baseball should seriously always have a sidearming Australian who owns a bar.

Video: Peter Moylan set to enter free agency in 2019

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

A's prospect and Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray recreated an iconic Bo Jackson photo and it's striking

The notion of the two-sport star has proven elusive over the years. Sure, you think of Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan as players who have most notably performed at the highest level in baseball and football, but the list doesn't extend much further than that.

Hot on their heels, perhaps, is young Kyler Murray -- the A's top pick and No. 9 overall in the 2018 Draft -- who has become something of a breakout star in the college football circuit. As quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, Murray has lit up the field just about every game so far this season, earning some Heisman Trophy buzz in the process. He'll make the transition to baseball full-time after this season, however, so he won't be a true "two-sport star" in the same way the others were ... but he definitely has the skills to be one. 

Return to Nats looks unlikely for Harper

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.

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.

Rosenthal: Harper was very nearly an Astro
Nov. 10: The coming weeks will determine whose uniform Bryce Harper wears next, but the superstar outfielder very nearly switched uniforms at last season's Trade Deadline. 

In a story published Saturday for the The Athletic, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal revealed that the Astros had a deal in place for Harper leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline before Nationals ownership rejected the move, per Major League sources. The Astros, without Harper, were ultimately unable to defend their 2017 World Series title as they fell to the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

Rosenthal reports the proposed trade would have sent right-handed pitcher J.B. Bukauskas, the Astros' eighth-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, to Washington along with two other Minor League players for Harper. One of those two players could have been catcher Garrett Stubbs, Houston's No. 15 prospect, who was brought up in discussions between the two clubs. That kind of haul would offer significantly more value to the Nationals than their current compensation if Harper rejects their qualifying offer and signs with another team: A pick after the fourth round of the 2019 MLB Draft, per the current rules in MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Nationals' potential compensation is lower than 28 of the other 29 Major League clubs (with the Red Sox being the other exception) because they exceeded the $197 million competitive balance threshold (CBT) in '18.

The Nationals informed teams that Harper was available in the days leading up to the non-waiver Deadline as their NL East hopes began to wane, but general manager Mike Rizzo informed the Washington Post on the morning of the Deadline via text that "Bryce is not going anywhere." Harper then rejected the Nationals' 10-year, $300 million contract offer at the close of the regular season, per the Post. 

Bukauskas, 22, missed the first three months of 2018 due to a slipped disc, but returned to compile a 2.14 ERA in 59 combined Minor League innings while ascending to Double-A. Stubbs hit .310 and posted an .836 OPS across 84 games for Triple-A Fresno last season. 

Is the Harper-to-the-Yankees dream dead?
Nov. 10: As he prepares for an offseason in which he'll be heavily promoting Bryce Harper behind closed doors, agent Scott Boras spent some time this week talking up his client in public. When he wasn't touting Harper as a "generational player" who is worth "$400 million to $500 million" in true value, Boras was trumpeting Harper's ability to help a team at first base.

The Daily News' Bill Madden thinks the latter proclamation was a last-ditch effort by Boras to keep alive an idea the agent has held for quite some time -- that Harper will sign the biggest contract in baseball history with the Yankees.

But Madden considers the Harper-to-the-Yankees dream to be "dead," noting that New York has no interest in spending another $250 million or more on an outfielder.

Madden writes that the Yanks' priority instead is "to add at least two more proven quality frontline pitchers," and he predicts that after staying under the luxury-tax threshold in 2018, New York "will not be out-bid for Patrick Corbin" or J.A. Happ, if they choose to pursue them.

Could Harper captivate Chicago like Sammy Sosa?
Nov. 10: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Manny Machado or Bryce Harper? The White Sox would likely be thrilled to sign either player this offseason, but if they had to pick just one, who would it be?

In the opinion of Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times, it should be Harper.

Morrissey argues that while Machado may be the more consistent player, Harper is more compelling and would be the most magnetic baseball personality in Chicago since Sammy Sosa.

And although the White Sox are hoping to put their rebuild into overdrive this offseason, Morrissey contends that owner Jerry Reinsdorf should first be concerned about filling Guaranteed Rate Field, where a captivating personality and prodigious talent like Harper would be a significant draw.

Robertson enjoying free-agent talks as own rep

MLB.com @feinsand

David Robertson has plenty of experience closing games on the mound, but this winter, he's looking to close in a completely different forum.

The free-agent reliever is representing himself after parting ways with his longtime agent, Scott Leventhal. Robertson, who will be pitching in his age-34 season in 2019, has fielded calls and texts from more than a half-dozen general managers since he hit the market.

David Robertson has plenty of experience closing games on the mound, but this winter, he's looking to close in a completely different forum.

The free-agent reliever is representing himself after parting ways with his longtime agent, Scott Leventhal. Robertson, who will be pitching in his age-34 season in 2019, has fielded calls and texts from more than a half-dozen general managers since he hit the market.

"I've enjoyed a lot of the conversations I've had with the GMs," Robertson said. "A lot of GMs have been feeling me out to see where I'm at. It's been interesting. It's definitely exciting. It hasn't gotten stressful because we haven't put numbers and years on paper yet."

Those will surely come, but for now, Robertson's information-gathering has focused on the role teams envision him filling and what the roster makeup looks like. Another important issue for him and his wife, Erin: "How's the family room situation?"

Robertson owns a 2.88 career ERA over 11 seasons with the Yankees and White Sox, saving 124 games between 2014-17. In 2018, he struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings, only a smidge lower than his career average of 12.

The right-hander is seeking a three-year deal that would take him through his age-36 campaign.

The relief market moved quicker than any other last year, so while Robertson could opt to wait for another reliever or two to sign deals and establish a market, he seems prepared to sign someplace if the right deal presents itself.

"I feel like I'm in my prime and I'm ready to go for another three years," Robertson said. "We're trying to just go with the flow. This is my first time representing myself, so I'm taking it slow and weighing my options."

Astros could lose assistant GM, bench coach

The Astros have seen executives Mike Fast and Sig Mejdal depart since the end of the season, while the coaching staff has been raided with hitting coach Dave Hudgens, assistant hitting coach Jeff Albert and bullpen coach Doug White all moving on to other clubs.

Assistant general manager Mike Elias is expected to be announced as the Orioles' new general manager in the coming days, another hit to the front office. That could very well impact manager AJ Hinch's staff, as well.

Sources say Astros bench coach Joe Espada is expected to be a serious candidate to manage the Orioles. Espada, who interviewed with four clubs for managerial vacancies this offseason, has eight years of experience coaching on big league staffs, having served as the third-base coach for the Yankees (2015-17) and Marlins (2010-13).

Garcia a White Sox non-tender candidate?

The White Sox continue to shop outfielder Avisail Garcia, who is eligible for his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent at the end of 2019.

An All-Star in 2017, Garcia fell flat this past season, his .236/.281/.438 slash line representing a steep drop from the .330/.380/.506 line he posted the previous year.

"The White Sox missed their chance to trade him," one executive said.

Garcia, who earned $6.7 million in 2018 after beating the White Sox in an arbitration hearing, will likely make about $8 million next season. Unless Chicago plans to sign Garcia to an extension -- which, according to a source, seems unlikely -- the more plausible scenario is that the White Sox non-tender the 27-year-old if they're unable to find a trade partner.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

David Robertson