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deGrom, Snell rise to top as 1st-time Cy winners

MLB.com @castrovince

The Cy Young script has been rewritten. When the Mets' Jacob deGrom and the Rays' Blake Snell were announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Wednesday night as the 2018 winners of baseball's most prestigious pitching prizes, it was a window into the metrics that matter most when evaluating the modern-day starter and into the way the starting role itself has been altered -- perhaps irrevocably -- in MLB.

With deGrom's runaway win over three-time winner Max Scherzer (deGrom received all but one first-place vote) in the National League, the voters laid to waste any past prestige associated with the win stat and simply sided with one of the most dominant pitching seasons of our time.

The Cy Young script has been rewritten. When the Mets' Jacob deGrom and the Rays' Blake Snell were announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Wednesday night as the 2018 winners of baseball's most prestigious pitching prizes, it was a window into the metrics that matter most when evaluating the modern-day starter and into the way the starting role itself has been altered -- perhaps irrevocably -- in MLB.

With deGrom's runaway win over three-time winner Max Scherzer (deGrom received all but one first-place vote) in the National League, the voters laid to waste any past prestige associated with the win stat and simply sided with one of the most dominant pitching seasons of our time.

Complete 2018 awards coverage

And in Snell's close call in the American League over Justin Verlander, the voters went with the sizzle of Snell's rate stats despite the paltry (by typical Cy Young Award standards, that is) size of his workload.

Video: Jacob deGrom named the 2018 NL Cy Young Award winner

deGrom's 10 wins are now, by far, the fewest for a Cy Young Award-winning starter. And Snell's 180 2/3 innings pitched are now, by far, the fewest for a Cy Young Award-winning starter in a non-strike season.

Where do deGrom, Snell rank among Cy Young winners?

:: NL Cy Young Award voting totals ::

"I would say it's just the quality of work [that matters]," Snell said. "You look at deGrom, and he had a great ERA, and he was going deeper into ballgames than me. So you can't put the wins and losses on him as heavily. Just looking at it, I feel like it's turning more into [what is the] quality of work and what did you accomplish in those innings? I think that's the way it's going."

With ample means of measuring a pitcher's impact in the modern day, certain sacred cows don't necessarily carry the weight they once did.

Then again, it was easy to be enticed by the sub-2.00 ERAs deGrom and Snell carried at season's end.

No qualifying pitcher had a better ERA this season than deGrom's 1.70 mark. It was the best in baseball by .19 points and the best in the NL by .67. In fact, it was the sixth-lowest among qualifying pitchers since MLB lowered the mound to its current height in 1969, and deGrom's league- and ballpark-adjusted 216 ERA+ was the 24th-best mark in big league history.

"I really do love competing," he said. "That's why we play this game, to go out there and compete. Just every fifth day, it's your day and you want to stay out there as long as possible and try to put your team in position to win."

Unlike Snell, deGrom's greatness came with no caveats with regard to workload, as his 217 innings were the second most in baseball. He set records for consecutive quality starts and consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs.

But with little help from his supporting cast (only two qualifying pitchers had a lower run support average than deGrom's 3.57), deGrom finished just 10-9. So the NL race -- in which the Nationals' Scherzer received the only other first-place vote and Aaron Nola of the Phillies finished third -- became a referendum on the present-day value (or lack thereof) of a win stat invented in the late 1800s.

Video: deGrom on maintaining mechanics, competitive spirit

Unwittingly, deGrom became the suitable-for-framing poster boy for the win's weakness as an accurate descriptor of a pitcher's season. He made 19 starts in which he went at least five innings (the bar for entry for starting pitcher wins) and allowed one earned run or none. He won just nine of those starts -- a "conversion" rate of 47 percent in a league in which starters with such a line recorded a win 60 percent of the time.

All-time Cy Young Award winners

In the end, it boils down to this: deGrom won 10 games with the Majors' best ERA, and the White Sox's Lucas Giolito won 10 games with the Majors' worst ERA (6.13).

Video: deGrom and Snell take home Cy Young Awards

"My thought process," said deGrom, who never revealed his frustration with the lack of help, "was, 'Hey, take the ball every fifth day and try to put this team in a position to win and control what you can control.'"

:: AL Cy Young Award voting totals ::

So deGrom rose above not only Scherzer's 300 strikeouts and Nola's breakout year but his own win total. The previous low win total for a Cy Young starter was 13, for both Fernando Valenzuela (13-7 in 1981) and Felix Hernandez (13-12 in 2010).

Snell's selection, meanwhile, was a reflection of the evolving role of the starting pitcher and the diminishing emphasis on innings pitched.

Prior to Snell, no starting pitcher in a non-strike year had won a Cy Young Award with fewer than the 198 1/3 innings pitched by Clayton Kershaw in 2014. The 200-inning bar has traditionally been a standard for Cy Young Award consideration, but, in a 2018 season that saw the fewest 200-inning pitchers for a non-strike year (13), that bar was abolished. Snell averaged just 5.8 innings per start and also had a two-week disabled-list stint with left shoulder fatigue.

The difficulty in determining what to do about the 33 1/3-inning gap between Snell and Verlander was reflected in the final totals. Though the only two previous pitchers in the DH era to post sub-2.00 ERAs and 20 wins were unanimous Cy Young selections (Ron Guidry in 1978 and Pedro Martinez in 2000), Snell received 17 first-place votes and Verlander, who won the AL Cy Young (and AL MVP) in 2011 and has now finished second three times, received 13.

But the southpaw Snell, 25, certainly made the most of his time on the mound to become the second Cy Young Award winner in Rays history, joining David Price in 2012. He was the Majors' only 21-game winner, and his .178 average against and 219 ERA+ were the best in baseball. Snell's 1.89 ERA was the best among AL qualifiers. He allowed two or fewer runs in 27 of 31 starts and one or none in 21. In 12 starts against the AL's five playoff teams - the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, A's and Astros - Snell went 9-2 with a 2.00 ERA.

Video: Blake Snell on joining David Price in Rays history

"I felt it was all confidence, honestly," Snell said. "Mechanics always felt good. For the most part, it was confidence that I could be at that level and compete day in and day out. That's what helped me get to where I'm at right now."

There was some irony in the fact that the Rays -- the first team to employ the "opener" strategy and the rare team to utilize regular bullpen days throughout the season -- also provided a Cy Young Award winner.

"I felt with the opener, I had a bigger role on the team, just because we didn't have as many starters as everyone else," Snell said. "But with that, I was excited to be the guy that they could rely on and count on. I think it helped me become better and better and believe in myself more and more."

Video: Snell discusses his confidence going forward to 2019

There was a time when a starter with less than 200 innings or with just 10 wins had no reason to believe he could win the Cy Young. Wednesday's result was a reflection of how much times have changed.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Jacob deGrom, Blake Snell

Yankees weighing Machado's off-field comments

Steinbrenner finds star free agent's talk about hustle 'troubling'
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The Yankees' interest in Manny Machado is serious, and as the club continues to gather information and evaluate his potential fit in pinstripes, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said it is "essential" to hear an explanation for the free-agent slugger's October commentary.

When Machado's aggressiveness was questioned during the Dodgers' National League Championship Series against the Brewers, Machado memorably said that he was "not the type of player that's going to be Johnny Hustle." He also drew criticism for a pair of baserunning plays at first base, one of which resulted in a fine, and questionable slides into second base.

NEW YORK -- The Yankees' interest in Manny Machado is serious, and as the club continues to gather information and evaluate his potential fit in pinstripes, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said it is "essential" to hear an explanation for the free-agent slugger's October commentary.

When Machado's aggressiveness was questioned during the Dodgers' National League Championship Series against the Brewers, Machado memorably said that he was "not the type of player that's going to be Johnny Hustle." He also drew criticism for a pair of baserunning plays at first base, one of which resulted in a fine, and questionable slides into second base.

Speaking to reporters at the Major League Baseball Owners' Meetings on Wednesday in Atlanta, Steinbrenner said that he felt Machado's comments were "troubling." General manager Brian Cashman is believed to be performing due diligence on Machado, including the fallout of the 26-year-old's eventful postseason.

Video: Manny Machado set to test waters of free agency

"If it's a $300 million guy or a $10 million guy, clearly those comments are troubling," Steinbrenner said. "But that's really Cash's job. If we're interested in any player, we sit down with him face to face and ask him, 'Where did this come from? What was the context around the entire interview? Was there a point you were trying to [make]? How do you justify it?'

"Because that ain't going to sell where we play baseball. That conversation will happen, no matter who it is."

The Yankees have interest in Machado, in part because shortstop Didi Gregorius is expected to be sidelined at least until June -- and perhaps until August -- as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Machado could potentially play shortstop and shift to third base, though that would dislodge Miguel Andujar, who finished second to the Angels' Shohei Ohtani when the results of the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting were announced Monday night.

Video: Andujar finishes 2nd for the AL Rookie of the Year

"Manny Machado is a terrific baseball player," Cashman said Wednesday on WFAN. "We got a chance to see him on the front lines against us for the Orioles for way too long, since he was drafted in the first round by them. He's been banging away against us offensively and securing outs defensively.

"He's a tremendous player. We've got to assess, does he fit our world and at what cost? We are going to go through that process with him as well as every available free agent and potential trade partner to see what is the best course of action."

Though right-hander Dellin Betances issued a public plea for the Yanks to add Machado, saying on Tuesday that he believed Machado would be a good teammate and "put us over the top," both Steinbrenner and Cashman have said that the team's highest priority is adding starting pitching.

"I've got to get two starters in here, preferably elite, which those lists are smaller," Cashman said. "The better quality No. 1, 2 or 3 type starter, that's what we need. I need multiples of those."

Video: Hoch reports on Yankees' pursuit of Patrick Corbin

Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ and Dallas Keuchel are among the free-agent targets who have been linked to the Yankees, who moved swiftly to re-sign CC Sabathia earlier this month. The Yanks would also be interested if the Indians were to seriously shop Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber or the Mariners made James Paxton available.

Cashman added that the Yankees are considering bringing back relievers Zach Britton and David Robertson, both of whom are free agents.

"I've got to tend to that bullpen, I've got to figure out our middle-infield situation with Didi's Tommy John injury, which obviously brings up the Machado name," Cashman said. "We are going to explore all trade opportunities, both trade and free agent, as well as trying to assess the price tags associated with acquisition as well as the character and culture fit. Hopefully we make a good call."

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

New York Yankees, Manny Machado

Rumors: Machado, deGrom, Harper, Greinke

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

Despite owner's reservations, Kay thinks Yanks are in on Machado 'in a serious way'
Nov. 14: Now that the Yankees have finally met owner Hal Steinbrenner's long-stated goal of dropping below the "luxury tax" threshold, his blessing for any significant commitments to free agents will be more important than ever. As MLB Network insider Bob Nightengale reported Wednesday, Steinbrenner could have reservations about Manny Machado, stemming from the shortstop's controversial interview with Ken Rosenthal during the postseason about his lack of hustle.

"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."

Because the Yankees are known to pride themselves on their clubhouse culture, Nightengale writes that Steinbrenner has already started to discuss Machado with Alex Rodriguez, a Yankees advisor who has served as a longtime mentor to the superstar and has known the 26-year-old since he was a high school student in Miami. They are expected to further those talks in the coming weeks.

Machado also caused controversy when he clipped Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the leg while running through first base during the National League Championship Series. He has reportedly told friends and teammates that he misspoke in the hustle interview, and Steinbrenner noted that clarifying the comments will be an important point during a possible interview and vetting process with Machado.

"It's essential," Steinbrenner said. "That conversation will happen, no matter who it is. It is going to happen."

But despite any potential reservations on the part of ownership and Cashman, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay said Wednesday on his radio show that he thinks the club is gearing up for a major push to land 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

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.

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.

Are the Reds willing to pay up for a top free-agent starter?
Nov. 14: 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."

Justice notes that the Reds could sign multiple starters, but they may look at less expensive pitchers. Nathan Eovaldi, J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton stand out as attractive options from the second tier.

Another factor that might deter the Reds from pursuing Corbin or Keuchel is the fact that they'll need to surrender a Draft pick to sign either pitcher after both rejected qualifying offers. Given the state of the team, adding a big-name starter won't make Cincinnati an instant contender, but signing two reliable arms would help.

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.

Will Bumgarner be in a new uniform by Spring Training?
Nov. 13: This past season, teams that called the Giants about a Madison Bumgarner trade were told that he was not available, with San Francisco placing great importance on the left-hander's legacy, according to Buster Olney in an article for ESPN+ (subscription required).

But Olney argues that the club must at least consider dealing Bumgarner this offseason, with the southpaw starting to show signs of regression and set to hit the free-agent market in a year.

As Olney notes, Bumgarner's fastball velocity and OPS against his four-seamer are going in the wrong direction, as is his hard-hit rate, and it's questionable whether San Francisco should offer him a long-term contract extension. Meanwhile, trading Bumgarner may be the Giants' best chance to replenish a lackluster farm system.

Olney considers new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi the right person to make a tough decision about Bumgarner, as the former Dodgers general manager has no ties to the Giants' three World Series-winning clubs and can fairly assess Bumgarner's future without being swayed by his past.

Olney also writes that Bumgarner may still be viewed as an attractive trade target by many teams because of his track record and the fact that he requires only a one-year obligation for $12 million.

Yanks would be a logical fit for Murphy
Nov. 13: The Yankees are in fine-tuning mode with their lineup, but with the unexpected timeline of Didi Gregorius' return from Tommy John surgery, the club all of a sudden has a left-handed, pull-power void. MLB.com's Matt Kelly makes the argument that Daniel Murphy could fit that bill splendidly, while also outlining other factors that make Murphy and the Yanks a strong match on paper. 

5 reasons why Yankees should sign Murphy

Murphy might be an economical solution in dollars and years, would bring a hitting acumen to the Yanks' young stars and could even serve as insurance at first base for Greg Bird, who has yet to hit his stride, and Luke Voit, who may need to still prove himself as an everyday player. 

No stranger to the New York spotlight, Murphy has been a poster boy for the launch-angle era, which could prove valuable with the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium. As Kelly notes, from 2016-17, only 10 left-handed hitters recorded a higher rate of pulled fly balls and line drives, per Statcast™, and Murphy hit .642 when putting those balls in play.

Kelly also points out that after a sluggish start to his 2018 season -- Murphy missed the first two and a half months while recovering from right knee surgery last offseason, then hit .188 over his first 21 games -- Murphy slashed .328/.365/.506 over his last 70 games for a 132 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) -- the exact same in that stretch as Manny Machado, whom the Yanks are also reportedly targeting. 

Murphy will turn 34 years old on April 1, has proven to be defensively inferior to most everyday second basemen, and was limited to just 91 games last year. But his October-laden resume, affordability and veteran impact might make him a strong fit in the Bronx. 

Would the Yanks trade Andujar to make way for Machado?
Nov. 13: While it's unclear exactly where Manny Machado falls on the Yankees' offseason wish list, a big splash by New York can't be ruled out, especially after the club just watched the rival Red Sox win their fourth World Series title since 2004. The Yanks certainly have the money to afford the 26-year-old, and the club is doing "extensive" background work on him, according to a report from The Athletic (subscription required).

Of course, improving the starting rotation remains the Yankees' top priority. General manager Brian Cashman has made it known he's looking to add two starting pitchers, and signing Machado may lower New York's chances of inking one of the top hurlers on the free-agent market, such as Patrick Corbin.

Still, there is a way for Cashman to possibly acquire Machado and multiple high-end starters, as Joe Rivera of the Sporting News points out. The Yankees could do so by dangling third baseman Miguel Andujar in a trade for an ace, and then sign a mid-market free agent such as J.A. Happ.

Andujar finished second to Shohei Ohtani in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting after hitting .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs in 2018, but he struggled defensively to the point where there are questions about his long-term viability at the hot corner.

If New York trades Andujar, Machado could slot in as the club's starting third baseman, with Gleyber Torres shifting to shortstop until Didi Gregorius is ready to return from Tommy John surgery.

Granted, the Yanks wouldn't have to trade the 23-year-old Andujar to make room for Machado. They could play Machado at shortstop while Gregorius is out, leaving Andujar at third base and Torres at second, or move Andujar across the diamond to first. But dealing Andujar may be the best way for the Yankees to get Machado and still acquire the ace starting pitcher they covet.

Are the 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.

The Twins need a DH. Will they go after Cruz?
Nov. 13: Minnesota was starved for production out of its designated hitter spot throughout all of 2018. The Logan Morrison signing was a flop, and the revolving door of Joe Mauer, Robbie Grossman, Tyler Austin and Eddie Rosario down the stretch didn't fare well, either. Twins DHs combined for a .682 OPS and 15 homers last season, topping only the Tigers in those categories among American League teams.

With the large salaries of Mauer, Ervin Santana, Lance Lynn, Morrison and Brian Dozier now off the books, the Twins have plenty of payroll flexibility to work with for 2019. Brandon Warne of Zone Coverage thinks that the Twins will use that money to sign Nelson Cruz to bring some much-needed stability to the DH position, at least in the short term.

Tweet from @Brandon_Warne: Abbreviated #MNTwins Blueprint v.III:Trade for Carlos SantanaSign Nelson CruzSign Jose Iglesias Sign Garrett Richards/Trevor CahillSign David RobertsonWin the AL Central.

Warne sees Cruz as the "perfect bridge" to Austin, Miguel Sano or Twins No. 7 prospect Brent Rooker, as the 38-year-old would give Minnesota's lineup an immediate influx of elite power without commanding a lengthy commitment.

That's not to mention Cruz's connection to Minnesota's front office -- Twins general manager Thad Levine and Cruz spent eight years together with the Rangers during Levine's lengthy stint as Texas' assistant general manager.

Deciding between Brantley and Pollock
Nov. 13: When it comes to choosing the second-best free-agent outfielder -- that is, the No. 2 option after Bryce Harper -- the decision could come down to Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock. As is, there are a number of similarities between the two as veterans north of 30 years old who possess top-of-the-lineup skills and solid defensive ability but also come with a history of missing time.

Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News weighs the choice between Brantley and Pollock, making the case for each by breaking down various aspects of their games, including the fact that Pollock was offered -- and declined -- the $17.9 million qualifying offer, thus saddling him with Draft-pick compensation. The verdict?

"Teams will roll the injury dice to sign either guy," Fagan writes. "Pollock has the higher upside, but for a team that is loathe to part with any draft pick, Brantley might be the better bet."

Who's your pick: Kimbrel or Ottavino?
Nov. 13: Thanks to his elite track record of 333 saves in eight-plus seasons as a closer, Craig Kimbrel is going to get paid very handsomely this offseason, with Aroldis Chapman's five-year, $86 million contract and Kenley Jansen's five-year, $80 million deal serving as high-end benchmarks for what Kimbrel, MLB's active saves leader, might expect.

But is Kimbrel the free-agent reliever that will provide the most value to his team moving forward? Michael Clair of MLB.com's Cut4 doesn't think so. Instead, he argues that suitors for Kimbrel should be clamoring for the services of Adam Ottavino.

It might sound crazy given Kimbrel's history, but Clair considers it to be just that: history. To make his case, Clair points to some peripherals that suggest that Kimbrel, now entering his 30s, might be in for a regression. Not only did the hard-throwing righty's walk and homer rate rise in 2018, but his FIP also rose to a career-high 3.13 and he lost over a mile per hour on his fastball from '17.

On the other hand, Ottavino is trending up, having worked hard after an abysmal 2017 season to remake his approach and arsenal, emerging on the other side with a career-best ERA (2.43) and strikeout rate (13 K/9) in '18, a season that rivaled that of Kimbrel -- despite Ottavino playing his home games at Coors Field. (For the record, Ottavino actually pitched better in Denver, with opposing batters registering a .418 OPS against him at Coors.)

Now, as both of these pitchers know, one-season blips happen, and Kimbrel is both more proven and 2 1/2 years younger than Ottavino. Kimbrel took a step back in 2016 but rebounded with arguably the best season of his career in '17. Ottavino is only one year removed from a disastrous 5.06 ERA and 6.6 BB/9 walk rate.

But as a non-closer, Ottavino is more accustomed to being flexible in relief and pitching longer outings when needed, which is more in line with the modern trend of bullpen usage. And given that Kimbrel's price and contract length will likely be driven up by aggressive bidding, Ottavino could still provide better value without requiring as steep of a commitment.

Predicting a Paxton blockbuster
Nov. 13: The noise around the possibility of a James Paxton blockbuster trade continues to grow. The Mariners, after all, already have dealt catcher Mike Zunino as the start of what appears to be a "reimagining" of the roster heading into 2019. As TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune writes: "And reimagining life without Paxton doesn't appear to be a matter of if, but when."

Paxton, who just turned 30 earlier this month, is coming off his best season yet, having established career highs in innings (160 1/3), strikeouts (208) and strikeouts per nine (11.7). Combine that with two more years of club control, and it's no surprise that a number of teams are interested in adding him as a top-of-the-rotation type of arm.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs looks at Paxton's progression from talented-yet-frustrating pitcher a few years ago to the burgeoning ace he became in 2018. His conclusion? "Paxton is one of those guys every team would want in a short series. He's one of those guys every team would want in a one-game playoff. James Paxton is a potential difference-maker in the rotation."

Given that Seattle's farm system is among the weakest in baseball and that the club's timeline for winning may no longer sync up with their control over Paxton, a trade would make sense -- and the return in young Major Leaguers and/or prospects could be massive. Not to mention, there are plenty of contenders loaded with young talent and holes in their rotation (read: Yankees, Astros, Braves, Phillies and Brewers) who already have been linked as possible landing spots for Paxton.

Corbin, Keuchel unlikely to be hurt by Draft-pick baggage
Nov. 13: While some players who rejected the qualifying offer in years past have had trouble finding suitors due to the Draft-pick compensation attached to them, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand doesn't think that will be a problem for Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel.

As Feinsand notes, the market for left-handed starters has shrunk considerably, with Clayton Kershaw re-signing with the Dodgers, David Price deciding not to opt out of his contract with the Red Sox, Hyun-Jin Ryu accepting the qualifying offer from Los Angeles and CC Sabathia re-signing with the Yankees on a one-year deal.

Corbin and Keuchel are arguably the only members of the top tier among all free-agent starters this offseason, J.A. Happ's reliability and Nathan Eovaldi's strong postseason notwithstanding. If any free-agent pitcher gets a nine-figure deal, it's unlikely to be anyone besides Corbin or Keuchel.

Could Realmuto replace Grandal in LA?
Nov. 13: When Yasmani Grandal declined the $17.9 million qualifying offer, he likely bid farewell to the Dodgers. That puts the club in position to look for catching depth to team with Austin Barnes -- or perhaps a major upgrade behind the plate, if it so chooses.

MLB Network insider Peter Gammons discussed the possibility of LA making a play for the highly sought-after J.T. Realmuto: "The team that I keep hearing about ... is the Dodgers."

Video: Dodgers could be a possible destination for Realmuto

As Gammons points out, top catching prospects Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith might be a year away from helping the Dodgers -- or even could be a part of a package sent to the Marlins for Realmuto. And given LA's outfield depth, the club also could consider parting with someone like Joc Pederson, who is just 26 years old and isn't due to hit free agency until after the 2020 season, or Alex Verdugo, an outfield prospect who is ready for The Show.

The late-season reemergence of lefty Julio Urias, who missed most of 2017-18 after shoulder surgery, gives an already deep Dodgers pitching staff even more options, especially after Clayton Kershaw re-signed and Hyun-Jin Ryu accepted the qualifying offer. In other words, LA's front office could have more freedom to deal from its surplus of young, controllable arms as a way to entice Miami.

Ross Stripling might make sense among those with big-league experience and success, while prospects like Dustin May and Mitchell White are high-upside youngsters near the top of a strong Dodgers system who could reach the Majors in the next year or so.

Despite two seasons of success, could Lowrie be a value buy?
Nov. 13: After posting 8.5 WAR (per FanGraphs) over the last two years, is it still possible that Jed Lowrie might actually be undervalued by the contract that he'll ultimately sign this offseason?

Emma Baccellieri of Sports Illustrated considers Lowrie to be a potential "value buy" in free agency, as she writes in an article in which she lists the switch-hitting second baseman among the available players that could provide the "biggest bang for their buck."

She points to Lowrie's relatively advanced age (34 years) and robust injury history (significant time missed in two of the last four seasons) 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 future production.

Are the White Sox clearing space for free-agent stars?
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.

Red Sox, Cora agree on new deal through '21

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- A day after Alex Cora finished second in the American League Manager of the Year Award race, the Red Sox gave their skipper the ultimate vote of confidence by redoing his contract to include a raise, an extra guaranteed year in 2021 and a club option that can keep him in Boston through '22.

Behind Cora, the Red Sox notched a franchise-record 108 wins in the regular season and rolled through the competition in the postseason, going 11-3 to bring home a World Series championship -- Boston's fourth in the last 15 seasons.

BOSTON -- A day after Alex Cora finished second in the American League Manager of the Year Award race, the Red Sox gave their skipper the ultimate vote of confidence by redoing his contract to include a raise, an extra guaranteed year in 2021 and a club option that can keep him in Boston through '22.

Behind Cora, the Red Sox notched a franchise-record 108 wins in the regular season and rolled through the competition in the postseason, going 11-3 to bring home a World Series championship -- Boston's fourth in the last 15 seasons.

The contract that Cora signed last November was a three-year deal that went through 2020 and included an option for '21.

The new contract boosts the amount of money Cora will make per season while tacking on an additional year.

Cora the runner-up for AL Manager of the Year

Video: Cora discusses influences on his managerial career

By taking such swift action on Cora's contract, the Red Sox are demonstrating how much they believe their manager had to do with the team's success.

"We have consistently been impressed by Alex at every turn," said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. "His knowledge of the game, ability to connect with our players, and his incredible instincts and decisiveness led us to a historic championship season. We know we are in good hands and could not be more pleased to know he will be with us for the foreseeable future."

Cora drew rave reviews for a variety of things, including his ability to communicate, his tactical decisions and the way he integrated analytics into daily life in the dugout.

Without question, Cora won over his players and also earned the confidence of ownership and the front office.

"Alex did a tremendous job for our club all year long and we wanted to reward him for his efforts after an amazing season," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "We are extremely happy that he will be with us and leading our club on the field."

Video: Cora talks impact of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez

The 43-year-old Cora expressed gratitude after receiving the new contract.

"Since Day 1, John and Linda Henry, Tom Werner, Mike Gordon, Sam Kennedy and Dave Dombrowski have been incredibly supportive of me and my family, and for that I am extremely grateful," said Cora. "For me, 2018 was not only historic, but it was special as well, both on and off the field. We have a great appreciation for our accomplishments this past year, but now our focus moves forward to the season ahead and defending our World Series title."

The Red Sox are aiming to become MLB's first repeat champion since the Yankees won their third straight in 2000.

Cora came just one win shy of tying Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees) for the most wins by a rookie manager. He was the first rookie manager to win a World Series since Bob Brenly for the D-backs in 2001. Cora joined Jake Stahl (105 wins in 1912) as the only skipper to win 100 games in his first season with Boston.

Video: MLB Tonight discusses Alex Cora's new deal with Sox

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

Boston Red Sox

Does Brantley to the Braves make sense?

MLB.com

Although he's battled his share of injury problems, Michael Brantley has proven to be a well-rounded player throughout his career, and he enters free agency after hitting .309 with 17 homers, 76 RBIs, 12 steals and only 60 strikeouts over 143 games this past season.

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

Although he's battled his share of injury problems, Michael Brantley has proven to be a well-rounded player throughout his career, and he enters free agency after hitting .309 with 17 homers, 76 RBIs, 12 steals and only 60 strikeouts over 143 games this past season.

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

Why Brantley to the Braves makes sense
Nov. 14: The Braves have two of their three outfield spots locked up, thanks to defensive wizard Ender Inciarte in center field and NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. in one corner. But Atlanta is in the market to fill free agent Nick Markakis' position in right field. The club has been linked to longtime Indians left fielder Brantley, who is among the best players on the open market and coming off one of his healthiest and most productive seasons.

It almost seems like a perfect fit, doesn't it? That could be why the on-air talent at MLB Network Radio is predicting Brantley to the Braves this offseason.

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

Brantley offers a lot of what Markakis provided in his four years in Atlanta: solid on-base skills at or near the top of the lineup, good contact-making ability, capable defense in the corner outfield with a strong arm and a veteran presence. At 31 years old, Brantley is the same age now that Markakis was when he made his way to the Braves, too.

Brantley's offensive and defensive tools also could allow Atlanta to shift Acuna both in the lineup and in the outfield, if the club so chooses. While the phenom's rookie campaign took off when he was moved to the leadoff position, his power bat could be better served hitting second, third or fourth to give him more opportunities with a strong leadoff hitter on base. In that sense, Brantley checks a lot of boxes.

Video: Bowman on Braves' interest in outfielder Brantley

Deciding between Brantley and Pollock
Nov. 13: When it comes to choosing the second-best free-agent outfielder -- that is, the No. 2 option after Bryce Harper -- the decision could come down to Brantley and A.J. Pollock. As is, there are a number of similarities between the two as veterans north of 30 years old who possess top-of-the-lineup skills and solid defensive ability but also come with a history of missing time.

Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News weighs the choice between Brantley and Pollock, making the case for each by breaking down various aspects of their games, including the fact that Pollock was offered -- and declined -- the $17.9 million qualifying offer, thus saddling him with Draft-pick compensation. The verdict?

"Teams will roll the injury dice to sign either guy," Fagan writes. "Pollock has the higher upside, but for a team that is loathe to part with any draft pick, Brantley might be the better bet."

Despite OF questions, the Indians are unlikely to bring back Brantley
Nov. 12: With Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall hitting the open market, the Indians have question marks at all three starting outfield spots for next season.

But after a strong -- and healthy -- 2018 season put him in position to receive a lucrative multi-year offer, the 31-year-old Brantley is seemingly unlikely to return to an Indians club that is reportedly shopping some of its veterans for short-term financial relief and younger, cheaper assets.

In fact, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that there is "nearly a zero chance" of the Tribe re-signing Brantley.

With no qualifying offer attached to Brantley, new teams won't be forced to surrender a Draft pick to sign him. As a result, there could be a robust market for the veteran, especially among clubs that need a corner outfielder but aren't in on Bryce Harper. The Braves, the Phillies and the White Sox have reportedly already made offers to Brantley.

Could the Rockies be the right fit for Brantley?
Nov. 10: In his piece for the Athletic outlining needs and potential free agent targets for all 30 clubs, former MLB general manager Jim Bowden lists outfielder Brantley as a potential fit for the Rockies. Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich has stated that the club's offense will be the focus during this offseason, and with both Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra on the free agent market, offense in the form of an outfielder would make sense. 

Brantley has spent his entire 10-year Major League career in the American League with the Indians, but spacious Coors Field and the thin air of Denver could be very inviting for a hitter of his caliber. Though he's never been a 30-plus home run hitter, Brantley has always had a penchant for extra-base hits, leading the AL in doubles with 45 in just 137 games for the Tribe in 2015. With the large gaps between outfielders at Coors Field, Brantley could certainly use that to his -- and the Rockies' -- advantage.

Brantley reportedly has offers from three teams
Nov. 9: The Indians didn't choose to make Brantley the $17.9 million qualifying offer a week ago, and a report by Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com indicated that the 31-year-old outfielder will likely sign a deal with another club in free agency.

In fact, Hoynes reports that Brantley already has offers from three teams: the Braves, the Phillies and the White Sox. And the bidding for the corner outfielder -- the best on the market, non-Bryce Harper division -- probably isn't done yet. For example, the Cubs are likely out on Harper because of their lack of payroll flexibility but could still use an effective bat near the top of their lineup. When healthy, that's exactly what Brantley has been for Cleveland out of the No. 2 spot in the order.

The market for Brantley also benefits from the fact that the lack of a qualifying offer means that whichever team signs him will not be subject to Draft pick forfeiture. The Braves have emerged as a team with both vested interest in landing a corner outfielder and the payroll flexibility to make a move for Brantley. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Brantley will end up with Atlanta on a three-year, $45 million deal.

Moreover, it would be surprising if the Phillies or White Sox would land Brantley at such an early stage of the offseason, since both are among the teams most interested in Harper, and there hasn't been any indication that the sky-high bidding for Harper will resolve itself with any expediency.

Braves are eyeing Brantley and Ramos?
Nov. 8: With Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki free agents, the Braves are in the market for a corner outfielder and possibly a catcher to team with Tyler Flowers. Could they look to replace a pair of dependable veterans with two others?

"Brantley is one of the few free-agent outfielders they've targeted so far," MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports of Atlanta's search for an outfielder. "There's a possibility they could go the trade route to fill this need, but for right now, [Brantley] is the [free agent] that has some traction."

Brantley, 31, is coming off one of his healthiest and best seasons (.309/.364/.468) and offers flexibility because he can play either left or right field, depending on what the Braves want to do with Ronald Acuna Jr. Given Brantley's contact and on-base skills (.351 career OBP), Bowman also speculates Atlanta could use him as the leadoff hitter while moving Acuna -- who flourished in that role in the second half -- to a better spot for driving in runs.

Another reason the Braves likely prefer Brantley above other options? He doesn't come with any Draft-pick compensation after Cleveland declined to present him with a qualifying offer.

As for Ramos, general manager Alex Anthopoulos told Bowman: "We do need a corner outfielder, and we do need somebody else to catch with Flowers." While Atlanta has been linked often to Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto, the cost of acquisition via prospects and/or young controllable players would be very steep, particularly since a number of other clubs are after Realmuto, too. As a free agent, then, Ramos could be something of a fallback option, as a dependable offensive player who won't require a package of prospects.

Michael Brantley

Kate Upton wasn't upset Justin Verlander came up short in Cy Young voting this time -- having a new baby helps

Astros right-hander Justin Verlander came up short in the American League Cy Young Award voting this season, finishing second to the Rays' Blake Snell for the top honor in the AL, as announced on Wednesday

Flash back to two years ago, when Verlander finished behind Rick Porcello for the same award. Upton was pretty upset about it, and she let the world know on her Twitter account. This time around, though, she poked fun at her emotional reaction from 2016. 

7 teams most likely to make big free-agent moves

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Let's say up front that there's nothing more fun than telling other people how to do their business. For one thing, we have no skin in this game. We can recommend a team spends $200 million on a player, and if it doesn't work out, no fuss, no muss.

Yes, this is an inexact science. While there is a time for teams to be aggressive regarding big-ticket free agents, positive results are not guaranteed. If there was ever a time when teams could shell out enough money to buy a postseason berth, that time has passed. That's true of the Royals and Astros, but it's true of the Yankees and Red Sox, too.

Let's say up front that there's nothing more fun than telling other people how to do their business. For one thing, we have no skin in this game. We can recommend a team spends $200 million on a player, and if it doesn't work out, no fuss, no muss.

Yes, this is an inexact science. While there is a time for teams to be aggressive regarding big-ticket free agents, positive results are not guaranteed. If there was ever a time when teams could shell out enough money to buy a postseason berth, that time has passed. That's true of the Royals and Astros, but it's true of the Yankees and Red Sox, too.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

The Red Sox opened the checkbook for David Price and J.D. Martinez, but if their player development system hadn't delivered Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, et al., the 2018 World Series trophy would be elsewhere.

So with the free-agent marketplace having opened, let's look at seven teams that seem to be in a position to think big:

1. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are so close to being a playoff team. That's what we learned during a 64-49 start last summer. That they finished so poorly should not take away from the strides they made. This is that rare time in a franchise's history when it has both the financial flexibility and the justification to be aggressive. Would signing Bryce Harper and Manny Machado -- or, say, Josh Donaldson and Patrick Corbin -- guarantee anything? Absolutely not. But it certainly would close the gap in the National League East.

Latest Harper free-agent rumors

Video: Hoskins on potential pairing with Harper, Machado

2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals would be poised to make some noise this offseason even if they hadn't missed the postseason three straight years -- or, to put it another way, even if they hadn't finished behind the Cubs three straight years. Beyond that, it's time. All those gifted young players -- Jordan Hicks, Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader and lots of others -- give St. Louis a foundation from which to build. Harper? Sure, he'd be a great fit. Donaldson? Corbin? Yes to both.

Should Cardinals overhaul the infield?

Video: Harper, Donaldson's possible fit in St. Louis

3. Los Angeles Angels
The Halos have one of the best players in baseball history in the prime of his career and have not won a playoff game in his seven seasons. Mike Trout is 27, so the clock is ticking. He's also two years removed from free agency. As difficult as the American League West is -- with the 103-win Astros and 97-win Athletics -- the Angels have to add pitching, pitching and more pitching. There's plenty of it out there. This is the time to go for it.

Who will be dealt? Each team's top trade chip

Video: Eppler discusses 2019 Angels, new skipper Ausmus

4. San Francisco Giants
The Giants were once seen as a big-time player for Harper and still might be. But the hiring of Farhan Zaidi as president of baseball operations may signal a change, not a retreat so much as a different approach to allocating resources. His background is with the A's and Dodgers, two teams that pride themselves on efficiency and roster depth and flexibility. No team's offseason will be more interesting than this one as Zaidi attempts to shore up his new roster around Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey to see if the window of opportunity can remain open another year or two.

Zaidi to cast a wide net in bolstering Giants

Video: Rosenthal on Zaidi, Harper from the GM meetings

5. New York Mets
The Mets have too much starting pitching to do anything except be active this offseason. This is a market deep in relievers, so new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen needs to load up, signing at least two. Three would be even better. More challenging will be finding a catcher and keeping his fingers crossed that Yoenis Cespedes is back from two heel surgeries early next season.

Van Wagenen ready to 'charge forward' as Mets GM

Video: Brodie Van Wagenen discusses Mets' offseason plans

6. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have accumulated so much prospect talent that winning seems inevitable at some point in the next season or two. That timetable has been delayed because of injuries to players like outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, but things can turn quickly as the top talent approaches the upper level of the Minor Leagues, and it seems to be the right time to upgrade the big league roster in preparation for the kids' arrival.

10 Rookie of the Year candidates for 2019

Video: Merkin on White Sox interest in Harper, Machado

7. Cincinnati Reds
It's not a question of whether the Reds will be aggressive this offseason. They will be. At least, they hope to be and will pursue starting pitching in both trades and free agency. Don't be surprised if Cincinnati signs multiple starters. Even if the contract demands of Corbin and Dallas Keuchel are out of the Reds' comfort zone, there are plenty of other options.

Can Reds add high-end pitchers to rotation?

Video: Winker discusses offseason, praises Reds teammates

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.

Pirates acquire three players in trade with Tribe

INF Gonzalez, pitching prospects Thomas, Mendoza headed to Bucs
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- This offseason, the Pirates must recreate their middle infield and find a short-term solution in right field. By completing a five-player trade with the Indians on Wednesday, they took a step toward addressing their infield openings but further clouded their outfield picture.

Pittsburgh sent outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland in exchange for utility infielder Erik Gonzalez and Minor League pitchers Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza, both 19-year-old right-handers. The 27-year-old Gonzalez could be part of the Pirates' Opening Day roster, given their uncertainty at shortstop and second base.

PITTSBURGH -- This offseason, the Pirates must recreate their middle infield and find a short-term solution in right field. By completing a five-player trade with the Indians on Wednesday, they took a step toward addressing their infield openings but further clouded their outfield picture.

Pittsburgh sent outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland in exchange for utility infielder Erik Gonzalez and Minor League pitchers Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza, both 19-year-old right-handers. The 27-year-old Gonzalez could be part of the Pirates' Opening Day roster, given their uncertainty at shortstop and second base.

The Pirates will likely enter next season without shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Josh Harrison, both free agents. That leaves them with unproven rookie Kevin Newman at short and Adam Frazier at second, though Frazier could play right field while Gregory Polanco recovers from September shoulder surgery early next season.

To fill one of those keystone spots, the Bucs could plug in Gonzalez. A gifted defender blocked in Cleveland by All-Star infielders Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, Gonzalez has Major League experience at shortstop, second base and third.

"Erik Gonzalez is an athletic middle infielder who plays solid defense and has the potential to be a productive hitter at the Major League level," general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "He gives us another option to play shortstop or in the middle of our infield this year and into the future."

Video: CLE@TOR: Gonzalez makes a backhanded stop in the 8th

Gonzalez has struggled offensively in the big leagues since making his debut in 2016, putting together a .263/.292/.389 slash line with five homers and 27 RBIs in 275 plate appearances. The Indians used him as a utility infielder, giving him 30 appearances at second base, 20 at third and 16 at shortstop last season. He also has worked nine games at first base and played both outfield corners.

Gonzalez, born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, had spent his entire career with the Indians after signing with them on Aug. 26, 2008. He made his big league debut in '16, the same year he was named a Triple-A All-Star with Columbus.

"As our roster has taken shape over the course of the past few seasons, we have not had an opportunity for him to play regularly," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "So we feel this will give Erik an opportunity to play more with Pittsburgh and continue his career and potentially blossom into the everyday player we think he can be."

Thomas, who was the Indians' No. 30 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, signed out of the Bahamas in December 2016. He made his professional debut in '17 before posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 27 strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League this year.

"Tahnaj Thomas is a recently converted infielder who possesses a quality frame, athleticism, a clean delivery and arm strength to create a high-ceilinged prospect," Huntington said in a statement.

Tweet from @Pirates: Pirates GM Neal Huntington on Erik Gonzalez: pic.twitter.com/aCW8CplHWR

The Indians picked Mendoza out of Torrance (Calif.) High School in the 12th round of the 2017 Draft. Mendoza also put together a 4.58 ERA in the Rookie-level Arizona League this year while recording a 1.42 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings over 10 appearanes (three starts).

"Dante Mendoza is a pitching prospect who brings many of the traits we like in young pitchers, while adding to the depth of pitching prospects with upside in our system," Huntington said.

The deal cost the Pirates a pair of young big leaguers they drafted and developed, although Luplow and Moroff both struggled in limited playing time. The writing may have been on the wall for Moroff, who is out of Minor League options, when Pittsburgh did not call him up this past September even though he was already on the 40-man roster. Moroff should have a chance to claim a utility infield job in Cleveland.

It was more surprising that the Pirates parted with Luplow, who hit well in Triple-A and seemed to be in line for more playing time in right field early next season as Polanco completes his rehabilitation work. The Pirates could shift Frazier or super-utility man Pablo Reyes to right field, plugging in Gonzalez or Kramer at second base, or look for another temporary outfield solution through free agency or trade.

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

How speed may affect these over-30 free agents

MLB.com @mike_petriello

As we saw last offseason, life on the free-agent market for 30-and-older free agents can be rough. Teams have been prioritizing youth over experience, for reasons of flexibility, health, projected performance and budget.

It makes for an interesting setup for this winter's class, because while we know that young stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are going to strike it big, we don't know how some of the more veteran players will do. What we do know is that teams will be using any and all of the tools available to them to try to project performance over the next few years. After all, they won't care that, say, Ian Kinsler was a four-time All-Star between 2008 and '14. They'll care about what he can do in '19 and beyond.

As we saw last offseason, life on the free-agent market for 30-and-older free agents can be rough. Teams have been prioritizing youth over experience, for reasons of flexibility, health, projected performance and budget.

It makes for an interesting setup for this winter's class, because while we know that young stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are going to strike it big, we don't know how some of the more veteran players will do. What we do know is that teams will be using any and all of the tools available to them to try to project performance over the next few years. After all, they won't care that, say, Ian Kinsler was a four-time All-Star between 2008 and '14. They'll care about what he can do in '19 and beyond.

One way to do that is by looking at a few of this year's over-30 free agents through the window of speed, specifically Sprint Speed, the Statcast™ metric that tracks top running speed in feet per second in a player's fastest one-second window. (Read more about how Sprint Speed works.)

Last year, we showed that (unsurprisingly) as a group, younger players tend to run faster. Early in the 2018 season, we looked at Matt Kemp's resurgence after claims of a winter of conditioning and found that it seemed legit, since he'd added a great deal of speed; last week, we used it to evaluate Josh Donaldson's free agency after several years of calf injuries.

Speed doesn't guarantee health, production or value. But it can help tell some new stories about names you've long known, especially when the players tell similar stories in their own words. Let's look at four of this offseason's prominent free agents (all traded during 2018) to see how their speed has changed -- not necessarily all in the same direction.

Looking up: Mike Moustakas
Last March, Moustakas settled for a surprising one-year deal to return to Kansas City, where he spent half the season before being traded to Milwaukee. He did more or less what he always does, which is to put up a slightly above-average low-OBP season with power (.251/.315/.459, 108 OPS+), though his slugging percentage dropped to the lowest level it had been since 2014.

Video: Lefty slugger Mike Moustakas hits free agency

Part of his free agency struggle was due to the qualifying offer he'd received; part of it was that few contending teams actually needed a league-average third baseman. He ended up being the 17th-most valuable third baseman among those with 400 plate appearances.

But part of it, according to a report in The Athletic (subscription required) last April, may have been about concerns over his health. 

"Moustakas knows the perception that he was not in top condition might have been a contributing factor in the limited interest he received as a free agent," wrote Ken Rosenthal. "But Moustakas, 29, addressed that criticism by getting in better shape, and GM Dayton Moore spoke excitedly last week about the slugger's off-season work, saying he is running as well as he ever has."

Moustakas has never been speedy, but his Sprint Speed had fallen dramatically. In 2015, it was 25.8 ft./sec., in the 29th percentile, below the Major League average of 27 ft./sec. By '17, it had fallen to just 24 ft./sec., the 9th percentile -- below-average even for catchers. That wasn't terribly surprising, because he sustained a serious right knee injury in '16 that required season-ending surgery, and then he dealt with soreness in the knee for much of the next season.

Moustakas Sprint Speed rankings

2015: 29th percentile
2016: 15th percentile (27 games)
2017: 9th percentile
2018: 26th percentile 

Moustakas found his lost speed in 2018. His 2017-18 jump, from 24 ft./sec. to 25.7 ft./sec., got him back to where he was in '15. It was also the largest increase of any qualified player in the game.

It's easy to see on a monthly basis, too, comparing his peak and average (on competitive runs) speeds. In 2018, his peak speeds were back in the 27 to 28 ft./sec. range they'd been pre-injury, but nearly as important, his average speed mirrored that closely. In '17, he'd been capable of short bursts, but the lingering soreness apparently prevented him from maintaining that as well. That didn't seem to be an issue in '18.

While it didn't improve his hitting stats -- see that slugging drop -- it might have helped with his defense, because he had a minus-8 DRS in 2017 before posting a +2 in '18. He even stole four bases, as many as he'd had in the last four seasons combined.

Ultimately, Moustakas still has to deal with being a good-not-great third baseman at a time when the position is stacked with talent, and in a market where teams may prefer to bet on Donaldson. But if this was a reason teams shied away last year, he can at least point to this improvement.

The effects of playing through injury: Brian Dozier
"It's been a struggle," Dozier said to the Los Angeles Times in September. "I've had a knee issue since the beginning of the year."

You don't need advanced data to know that Dozier's 2018 wasn't exactly what he was hoping for. This was a player who had put up five straight average or better seasons and received down-ballot Most Valuable Player Award support in '15, '16 and '17. But in '18, he hit just .215/.305/.391 with an 88 OPS+, which was about the same as Tim Anderson or Freddy Galvis, and it got worse after a trade to the Dodgers. With L.A., Dozier hit only .182/.300/.350. His once-strong defense suffered as well, falling to a career-low minus-8 DRS.

Interestingly, from a speed perspective, it looks like this began in 2017, when he had a strong season -- though amid reports he was playing through pain or a sore back.

Dozier Sprint Speed rankings

2015: 73rd percentile
2016: 71st percentile 
2017: 54th percentile
2018: 47th percentile 

You can see it in his monthly charts, as his peak Sprint Speed was generally just south of 29 ft./sec., where it had routinely been north of 30 ft./sec. in 2016.

Despite a crowded second-base market -- DJ LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie and Daniel Murphy are among the other options -- one poor year shouldn't be enough to eliminate Dozier as a possibility. He'd been too good for too long. He'll just have to prove the knee is healthy, however, if that really was the cause of his struggles. 

Holding steady: Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen turned 32 last month, and he's no longer the regular MVP Award candidate he was during his peak years in Pittsburgh. He's no longer even a center fielder, becoming a full-time corner outfielder for the first time in 2018 with the Giants and Yankees. 

This is about the age where you would expect a player with more than 1,500 career games to start to slow down, and maybe that's what will happen. But the remarkably durable McCutchen -- who has taken at least 640 plate appearances in every full season of his career dating back to 2010 -- hasn't really shown any indication that this is happening to him, at least not yet. Among regular right fielders, only two (Travis Jankowski and Avisail Garcia) were faster. 

Video: Andrew McCutchen set to hit free agency

McCutchen Sprint Speed rankings

2015: 87th percentile
2016: 95th percentile 
2017: 90th percentile
2018: 88th percentile 

The monthly data tells a similar story, though it's interesting to see at least a slight divergence between his peak and average. It does show, however, that the top speed is still there when he needs it; when he grounded out against the Tigers on Sept. 1, his 30.6 ft./sec. speed was his second-fastest of the last four years. (Interestingly, it was his Yankees debut.) 

We don't have this kind of data from back in 2010, when McCutchen was 23 and stealing 33 bases, while still playing center field. If he's not quite what he was then, that would make sense. But in '18, McCutchen hit a solid .255/.368/.424 and had a 118 OPS+ when accounting for the effects of what AT&T Park does. It's not the 134 OPS+ he's put up over his full career, but it is basically the 115 OPS+ he's had over the last three years.

That's a solidly above-average player, one who's a perfect fit for a contender with a short-term corner-outfield need -- perhaps Cleveland, Colorado or Atlanta. 

Recovering: Daniel Murphy
It's easy to forget that Murphy stole 23 bases in 2013 for the Mets, but speed was never really his game. Instead, the story of his rebirth as a high-contact power hitter is near-legendary at this point, and his .326/.375/.542 line in 2016-17 made him one of the 20 best hitters in baseball.

At first glance, 2018's .299/.336/.454 doesn't quite match up. Of course, Murphy underwent microfracture knee surgery in the offseason, and he didn't make his season debut until June 12. When he did, he wasn't effective. His .200/.231/.240 line was the worst month of his career

But it got a lot better after that. From July 1 on, both with the Nationals and the Cubs, Murphy hit .317/.355/.493 across 299 plate appearances. If it's not quite his 2016-17 peak, it's not far off, and it made him one of the 40 best hitters with at least 250 plate appearances in that span, up there with bats like Rhys Hoskins and Edwin Encarnacion.

Unsurprisingly, the data shows that either Murphy's knee wasn't fully healthy or that he was (understandably) taking it easy as he worked his way back into the lineup. In June, his peak and average scores were easily his lowest of the four seasons of Statcast™. They steadily increased each month after that.

In fact, Murphy's two fastest Sprint Speeds of the season both came in late September, when he beat out two infield hits to shortstop in three days (though neither drew a throw, to be fair). 

Murphy Sprint Speed rankings

2015: 28th percentile
2016: 43rd percentile 
2017: 36th percentile
2018: 23rd percentile 

It's an open question as to whether a team will still consider Murphy a second baseman or more of a first baseman/designated hitter. But based on his performance after his slow start last year, the bat still looks sound. If that's because of his knee, well, no one expects another 23-steal season. The foot-speed data sure looked promising as 2018 went on, however. 

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

Brian Dozier, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Moustakas, Daniel Murphy

Ranking every Cy Young Award season

MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

In 1956, a year after the death of legendary pitcher Cy Young, the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) began handing out an annual award in his honor.

After one trophy was given out for all of Major League Baseball in each of the first 11 seasons, the Cy Young Award expanded in 1967 to include one for the American League and one for the National League. Through 2018, 116 have been given out -- including two to AL recipients due to a tie in '69 -- and 19 pitchers have won it multiple times.

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