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Acuna, Ohtani named Rookies of the Year

Braves OF wins NL honor; Angels' two-way phenom claims AL prize
MLB.com @RichardJustice

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. dazzled us from the moment he stepped onto a Major League diamond last April. Are 20-year-olds supposed to be this good? This polished?

Acuna became the face of the Braves in a magical turnaround season and was honored with the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday. He received 27 of 30 first-place votes, with Nationals outfielder Juan Soto finishing second and Dodgers righty Walker Buehler third.

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. dazzled us from the moment he stepped onto a Major League diamond last April. Are 20-year-olds supposed to be this good? This polished?

Acuna became the face of the Braves in a magical turnaround season and was honored with the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday. He received 27 of 30 first-place votes, with Nationals outfielder Juan Soto finishing second and Dodgers righty Walker Buehler third.

• All-time Rookie of Year Award winners

:: NL Rookie of the Year voting totals ::

The three of them are part of a tidal wave of youth sweeping through Major League Baseball, changing it -- and making it better -- almost by the day.

Meanwhile, Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after a season in which he did something -- pitching and hitting on a regular basis -- no player had done in 99 years.

Ohtani also won easily, receiving 25 of 30 first-place votes, with a pair of Yankees -- third baseman Miguel Andujar and second baseman Gleyber Torres -- finishing second and third.

Because Ohtani tore a ligament in his right elbow and was limited to 10 pitching starts, he will not pitch again until 2020, so his 2018 season served to tease us about what the 24-year-old is capable of.

"Putting numbers aside, I don't want to talk numbers, I was disappointed I was not able to play full season," Ohtani said. "Elite players should be able to play a full season and help the team win. That's one of my goals."

Complete awards coverage

Video: Ohtani wins AL Rookie of the Year and reacts to honor

Despite the injury, he joined Babe Ruth (1919) as the only other player with at least 10 pitching appearances and 20 homers in a single season.

"I'm really honored to win this award in my first season in the States," he said. "It's my first year, and I think I have a lot of years ahead of me better than this one. I want to keep the focus on the future."

Ohtani is the fourth Japanese-born player to win Rookie of the Year honors, joining Seattle's Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) in the AL and Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers in the NL (1995).

:: AL Rookie of the Year voting totals ::

To have one's name in a conversation with Babe Ruth is one of the ultimate compliments a player can receive, and Ohtani took it in stride, saying, "I'm really honored to win this award against the high level of competition in Major League Baseball. I'm really proud of it."

On Opening Day, Ohtani was attempting to do something no player had done since Ruth's 1919 season -- be a starting pitcher and a full-time hitter.

Ohtani needed only a few weeks to show that he had a skill set to do both. Until a torn ligament was discovered in his right elbow, he'd had one of the most remarkable seasons in history. He's the first player to hit at least 20 home runs and record 50 strikeouts as a pitcher in the same season.

Video: MLB Tonight: Ohtani wins 2018 AL Rookie of the Year

He'd gone 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings through May 19 when he began to experience elbow issues. In that same stretch, Ohtani was hitting .321 with six home runs and a .986 OPS in 24 games (21 starts) as the Angels' designated hitter.

Ohtani pitched in just three more games after that, and he did not hit for most of June. But he returned for the final three months to DH and continued to be productive, finishing with 22 home runs, 21 doubles and a .925 OPS in 104 games.

Tweet from @Angels: Thank you! ���������������������������������! pic.twitter.com/otEam4KjCG

"I never had any doubts coming over here," Ohtani said. "I feel like I was able to fight through [the injury], and to end up with an award like this is an honor."

Ohtani and Acuna were the only MLB rookies with at least 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 2018.

"I'm just flattered. I'm so honored to receive this award," Acuna said. "My career is just beginning. There are just so many things I need to do to become a better player. I like to take in all the advice from other people to improve every year, to become a better person and a better player."

Video: MLB Tonight: Acuna Jr. wins '18 NL Rookie of the Year

Acuna's rookie season was magical from the start. He'd had an electrifying Spring Training and was MLB Pipeline's No. 2 prospect when he made his debut for the Braves on April 25.

He proceeded to fulfill every bit of promise by helping Atlanta improve by 18 games and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Acuna homered in his second big league game and went on to lead the Braves with 26 home runs and a .917 OPS in 111 games. He's one of five players in history to hit 26 home runs before his 21st birthday and the 10th to have at least 25 homers and 15 steals during his rookie season.

Acuna's 55 extra-base hits in his first 100 games were the sixth-most in history on a list that includes Joe DiMaggio, the all-time leader at 69.

Acuna's most impressive stretch came after the All-Star break, when Braves manager Brian Snitker moved him to the top of the batting order. Acuna hit 19 home runs in the final 68 games of the season had the NL's third-highest OPS, at 1.028.

His 3.4 WAR after the All-Star break was the second-highest in the NL, trailing only Brewers NL MVP candidate Christian Yelich's 5.4. In addition, Acuna's 171 Weighted Runs Created Plus after the break ranked third in the NL.

Video: Ronald Acuna Jr. is named the NL Rookie of the Year

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.

Ronald Acuna Jr., Shohei Ohtani

Here's how QO decisions will affect FA market

Corbin, Grandal, Harper, Keuchel, Kimbrel, Pollock decline QOs
MLB.com @feinsand

The free-agent market took further shape on Monday as six players declined qualifying offers from their previous clubs, attaching Draft-pick compensation to them as they seek new contracts.

Hyun-Jin Ryu was the lone player to accept, so he'll return to the Dodgers on a one-year, $17.9 million deal. Ryu became only the sixth player to accept of the 80 who have been extended qualifying offers since the system was implemented in 2012.

The free-agent market took further shape on Monday as six players declined qualifying offers from their previous clubs, attaching Draft-pick compensation to them as they seek new contracts.

Hyun-Jin Ryu was the lone player to accept, so he'll return to the Dodgers on a one-year, $17.9 million deal. Ryu became only the sixth player to accept of the 80 who have been extended qualifying offers since the system was implemented in 2012.

Qualifying offer rules explained

The other six players who received qualifying offers this year -- Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and A.J. Pollock -- declined and are now free agents, albeit with some strings attached.

Will the Draft-pick compensation attached to them have a major impact on any of these free agents?

In years past, some players who rejected qualifying offers struggled to find suitors, though teams signing such players are no longer subjected to the loss of their first-round picks as they once were. This year the pick forfeited is based on the team's status in regard to revenue sharing and the competitive-balance tax, and every team's highest first-round pick is protected.

Video: MLB Now: Assessing Harper's value in free agency

The teams interested in Harper are unlikely to care about the Draft-pick compensation, considering the type of dollars they will be committing in order to bring in a face-of-the-franchise player.

Then again, should a club be deciding between a pursuit of Harper and fellow prized free agent Manny Machado, the fact that Machado won't cost them any Draft picks or affect the size of their international bonus pool could become a factor.

The teams that would pay the heaviest price for signing any player who rejected a qualifying offer are the Nationals and Red Sox, who were the only two clubs to exceed the competitive-balance-tax threshold in 2018.

That means Washington and Boston would sacrifice their second- and fifth-highest selections in the 2019 Draft -- as well as $1 million of international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period -- if they sign one of the five players who rejected qualifying offers and who wasn't on their roster last season. (The Nats would not be penalized for re-signing Harper, and the Sox would not be penalized for re-signing Kimbrel.) Should either team sign two of those players, they would also lose their third- and sixth-highest picks.

The 16 teams that received revenue-sharing money -- the A's, Braves, Brewers, D-backs, Indians, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Tigers and Twins -- would lose their third-highest pick if they sign one of those players who wasn't on their roster last season.

The other 12 teams would lose their second-highest pick in next June's Draft, as well as $500,000 of their international bonus pool. If one of those teams sign two, they would also sacrifice their third-highest pick and an additional $500,000 of their international bonus pool.

Video: Dallas Keuchel enters free agency

The biggest winners of the early weeks of the offseason might be Keuchel and Corbin. With Ryu accepting the qualifying offer, Clayton Kershaw re-signing with the Dodgers, David Price deciding not to opt out of his deal with the Red Sox and CC Sabathia returning to the Yankees, the market for left-handed pitchers has shrunk considerably.

The rest of the catching market could benefit from the Dodgers' decision to offer Grandal a qualifying offer. Grandal will cost his next team a Draft pick -- two picks if it is the Nationals or Red Sox -- which is good news for free-agent backstops Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki and Martin Maldonado. It could also work in the Marlins' favor as they continue to ponder trading All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Kimbrel is the lone free-agent reliever with compensation attached to him, though he also possesses the lengthiest track record as an All-Star closer, so he shouldn't have a problem landing a multiyear deal in the Kenley Jansen/Aroldis Chapman range. For teams concerned about giving up a Draft pick and/or international bonus pool dollars, the market also includes Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino and Kelvin Herrera, leaving numerous late-inning options.

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

Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, A.J. Pollock

Rumors: Greinke, Machado, Cano, Harper, Eovaldi

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

Could D-backs make Greinke available?
Nov. 12: With the free-agent market for starting pitchers not particularly deep, the D-backs might be able to benefit by making Zack Greinke available via trade, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal suggests (subscription required). In fact, Rosenthal writes, Greinke might end up being the second-most attractive starting pitcher available this offseason, behind only teammate Patrick Corbin (who's now a free agent).

Greinke is 35, has had to deal with diminishing velocity over the past few seasons and is signed to an expensive contract -- he has three years and $104.5 million remaining on his six-year, $206.5 million deal that runs through 2021. But a selling point for the D-backs, per Rosenthal, would be their willingness to ease the financial burden on a prospective trade partner, whether by including cash or taking on another player's unfavorable contract.

And in Greinke's favor: his continued effectiveness and ability to adjust -- he had a 3.21 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 207 2/3 innings this season, after posting a 3.20 mark with 215 strikeouts in 202 1/3 innings in 2017.

Rosenthal notes that the D-backs haven't come out and said they want to trade Greinke, but the time might be right, with Corbin and A.J. Pollock free agents and Paul Goldschmidt a trade candidate since he's set to hit free agency next year.

Yankees doing "extensive" background work on Machado
Nov. 12: It's still a little murky how strong the Yankees' pursuit of Manny Machado will actually be. But they're definitely doing their due diligence.

According to The Athletic's Jayson Stark (subscription required), the Yankees have been doing "particularly extensive" background work on Machado, even beyond the typical amount of background information teams routinely seek about potential free-agent or trade targets.

Sources told Stark that Yankees manager Aaron Boone, front-office members and scouts are all among those who "calling around" about Machado.

The superstar shortstop remains a clear fit for the Yankees, with Didi Gregorius out indefinitely as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Video: Yanks cautiously testing waters on Machado

Is there a trade market for Cano?
Nov. 12: Even if the Mariners want to rebuild, they might not be able to pull off deal for all their big-contract players, including Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano.

Cano, for one, has several factors working against him, as Rosenthal notes (subscription required). He's 36, and has five years is signed to a 10-year, $240 million contract that runs through 2023. Cano has full no-trade protection. He might have to move from second base to first base/designated hitter in the near future, much less valuable positions. And teams will likely be leery of Cano's suspension this past season for violating MLB's Joint Drug Agreement.

Rosenthal thinks that Cano's preference would be to return to the Yankees, with whom he spent his first nine Major League seasons before signing with Seattle entering 2014. A deal between the two clubs might include, for example, Jacoby Ellsbury, who has another big contract -- the Mariners would likely have to take on such a contract to have a chance at moving Cano. But he notes that the two teams might not really have any reason to make such an exchange.

Are Phillies shopping Santana to clear 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.

What does recent history say about the contract Eovaldi should expect?
Nov. 12: Nathan 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.

Cruz could bring much-needed stability to Houston's DH role
Nov. 12: The Astros won a World Series in 2017 and reached the American League Championship Series in '18 despite inconsistency from their designated hitter for large swaths of those seasons.

Prior to the 2017 campaign, Houston brought on Carlos Beltran to be the primary DH, but he struggled in his final MLB season and split time with Evan Gattis, who was expected to flourish in the role in 2018 but struggled to a .226 average. Though Tyler White was successful down the stretch, he might need to play more first base in 2019 after the departure of Marwin Gonzalez and the transition of Yuli Gurriel to more of a utility role.

That's why an article in House of Houston calls for a commitment to Cruz, who has undoubtedly been one of the game's elite DHs over the last five seasons with the Orioles and Mariners. Cruz could bring a welcome dose of consistency to the middle of the Astros' lineup alongside the younger Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, and though he's a shorter-term solution, he would give Houston an impact bat at a position of need while they still have the 1-2 rotation punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole locked up for one more year.

Phillies could look to Donaldson, Moustakas for upgrade at third
Nov. 12: MLB.com's Todd Zolecki notes that Phillies third basemen ranked 18th in the Majors in batting (.248), 21st in on-base percentage (.311), and 13th in slugging percentage (.438) last season. Will the club upgrade at third base? That may depend on whether they sign one of the two big superstar sluggers on the market, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

"If they sign Harper, they might be more inclined to pursue help at third," Zolecki writes. "If they sign Machado and he plays shortstop, they might be more inclined to move forward with internal options like J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco and even Scott Kingery, who could play second base if Philadelphia trades Cesar Hernandez."

Zolecki suggests the Phillies may pursue free agents Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas. He writes that they would likely try to ink Donaldson to a short-term deal given the risk involved; he was hurt for most of last season, and was not as productive as in years past when he was in the lineup.

Tigers could trade Castellanos this offseason; might Astros be interested?
Nov. 12: Nicholas Castellanos has one more season left before he can become a free agent, and the Tigers don't expect to contend anytime soon. According to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, that makes Castellanos a prime candidate to be moved this offseason, especially with the club's July 2017 trade of J.D. Martinez still fresh in general manager Al Avila's mind.

As Fenech points out, the Tigers didn't consider trading Martinez before his final season of free agency, as the club wasn't in rebuilding mode yet. Once Detroit opted to move him, it had limited suitors for the slugger and ended up taking an uninspiring three-player package from the D-backs.

The problem for the Tigers is that Castellanos' defensive shortcomings may deter teams from trading for him. The 26-year-old, who was a third baseman before changing positions late in 2017, ended his first full season as an outfielder with an MLB-worst -25 Outs Above Average, per Statcast™.

And while Castellanos is a good hitter whose underlying metrics suggest he has room to grow, he hasn't yet proven to be on Martinez's level, which means he doesn't stand out much from the myriad of productive outfield options currently on the free-agent market.

Fenech mentions the Astros as one potential suitor for Castellanos, as they may still be looking for an outfielder after reportedly coming close to trading for Bryce Harper this past season. Per Fenech, Houston also made an offer for Castellanos before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Astros have openings in left field and at designated hitter with Marwin Gonzalez and Evan Gattis becoming free agents.

Tweet from @anthonyfenech: One team who could be a fit for Castellanos: The Astros, who made an offer for him before the July 31 trade deadline last year.

Ryu the only player to accept qualifying offer
Nov. 12: Hyun-Jin Ryu is staying with the Dodgers, as he officially accepted Los Angeles' one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer Monday. Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Pollock declined the offer.

The news is not exactly surprising. Ryu recorded a 1.97 ERA in 2018, but he again missed substantial time due to an injury. The left-hander has thrown just 213 2/3 innings since the beginning of '15, and he might have had trouble finding a lucrative multi-year offer on the open market, especially because new teams would have needed to forfeit a Draft pick to sign him.

Video: Ryu only one to accept qualifying offer, six decline

How will Rizzo address 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.

Will Donaldson headline Cardinals' offseason pursuits?
Nov. 12: The Cardinals may pursue free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson to upgrade their offense, but Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch argues that the veteran comes with too much uncertainty to be relied upon as the club's marquee addition this offseason.

Donaldson has a lofty ceiling, as he slashed .285/.387/.559 with 111 homers from 2015-17, winning the American League MVP Award in the first year during that span.

But Donaldson will turn 33 years old in December and is coming off a season in which he played just 52 games due to right shoulder and left calf injuries.

Although Frederickson thinks Donaldson would be well-received by the fan base as St. Louis' new starting third baseman, he writes that it "would seem a bit thin" if the slugger was "the Cardinals' sole big move for the lineup."

Will Reds trade for Gray?
Nov. 12: The Reds are in the market for starting pitching, and Cincinnati's new pitching coach, Derek Johnson, was Sonny Gray's college pitching coach at Vanderbilt. Is there a reunion in the cards?

MLB.com's Mark Sheldon answered that question in his most recent Inbox, writing that it would, indeed, be a good match. But the Yankees are looking for starting pitching as well, meaning they might ask for right-hander Luis Castillo. That might be too much of an ask for Cincinnati. Nevertheless, Sheldon adds that he would be shocked if the Reds didn't at least check in with New York on Gray.

Gray struggled in 30 appearances (23 starts) for the Yankees last season, posting a 4.90 ERA. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has indicated the club is looking to move on from the 29-year-old right-hander, saying last month that "to maximize his abilities, it would be more likely best [for him to be] somewhere else."

Despite outfield questions, Indians unlikely to bring back Brantley
Nov. 12: With Michael 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.

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.

Could poor defense of free-agent competitors help Lowrie's market?
Nov. 12: While the free-agent market for second basemen is deep this offseason, Jed Lowrie stands apart from many of his counterparts -- and not solely because of his bat.

Lowrie isn't an elite defender, but he isn't likely to hurt a team with his fielding, which gives him an edge over some of the alternative free-agent options.

Mark Simon took a look at six players whose free-agent markets could be hindered by their poor defense in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), and the list included three second basemen: Asdrubal Cabrera, Daniel Murphy and Brian Dozier.

Cabrera has made the majority of his defensive appearances at shortstop during his career, but he's played there just 76 times over the past two seasons, and his lifetime Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) mark as a shortstop is -56. The veteran isn't likely to be courted as a shortstop by most teams, but his defense at second base isn't much better.

In 2018, Cabrera's -17 DRS at second base ranked second to last among those with at least 500 innings at the position. Murphy was last with -18 DRS, and Dozier was three spots behind Cabrera with -8. Lowrie recorded 1 DRS with a 6.1 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in '18, while Cabrera, Murphy and Dozier had negative UZR marks.

Meanwhile, neither DJ LeMahieu or Ian Kinsler was anywhere close to Lowrie in terms of offensive production this past season, mitigating the defensive advantage they have over the 34-year-old Lowrie.

Arenado for Bryant? Hear this out.
Nov. 11: The rumors were flying earlier in the week about whether the Cubs would really entertain the idea of trading former NL MVP Kris Bryant. Former MLB general manager Jim Bowden, in a piece for The Athletic (subscription required), examines the idea, concluding that the likelihood of Bryant beginning the 2019 season anywhere but Wrigley Field is very low. Nevertheless, he suggests that for "the right deal," a swap could make sense for Chicago, and the organization may think hard about making it happen.

One of those "right deal" scenarios is -- brace yourself -- a swap of third basemen with the Rockies. That's right, trading Bryant for Nolan Arenado, who has one year remaining before he becomes a free agent. Bowden writes that such a deal could allow "the Cubs to try to extend Arenado instead, while the Rockies would have an extra two years of control of Bryant."

Arenado, an NL MVP finalist this year, has an .886 OPS (121 OPS+) with 186 home runs over six Major League seasons, along with six Gold Glove Awards at the hot corner. Bryant was the '15 NL Rookie of the Year before winning MVP honors the following season as he helped the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years. Though injuries hindered him last season, he remains one of the premier sluggers in the game, with a .900 OPS (137 OPS+) with 107 homers in 559 games.

Bryant has the aforementioned two years of team control remaining, while the Rockies will try to extend Arenado before he hits free agency. The prospect of a swap, while perhaps unlikely, is very intriguing nonetheless.

Should Cubs choose Machado over Bryant? Brisbee thinks so.
Nov. 11: SB Nation senior baseball writer Grant Brisbee decided to chime in on the Manny Machado debate with a lengthy column in which he debates the advantages and disadvantages of several teams' pursuits of the 26-year-old shortstop, including the Yankees, Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and ... Padres.

In his search for an ideal fit for Machado, Brisbee considers four factors: extra money to spend, a fan base that needs a jolt, a robust farm system that can allow them to subsidize a superstar for the coming years, and a young team.

"We need the Padres. Machado needs the Padres. The Padres need Machado," Brisbee writes.

Brisbee points to the Eric Hosmer contract as an example of the Padres making an expensive, long-term investment in a player that could play a key role on a future team in contention, but concedes that Machado playing his home games in Petco Park remains a long shot. He ultimately concludes that he expects Machado to sign a 10-year, $330 million contract to play for the Cubs.

He doesn't feel that it's a coincidence that Kris Bryant trade rumors are gaining steam now, when Machado is also on the market. He writes that for the Cubs, the decision is between committing $300 million to a 29-year-old Bryant after the 2021 season versus making a similar commitment to a 26-year-old Machado right now -- and also reaping the benefits of whatever top prospects they would gain in a trade involving Bryant.

Astros targeting familiar foe
Nov. 11: Could Mariners ace James Paxton pitch for another American League West club in 2019?

Count the Astros among the teams talking to Seattle about a potential trade for the southpaw, per MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, who calls the market for Paxton "active." The Yankees were also identified as a party in contact with the Mariners about Paxton earlier this week, meaning there could be an arms race developing between AL superpowers for what would be an impact arm.

Paxton has fared well against Houston, posting a 2.89 ERA across 12 career starts against the division foe. Houston's rotation was historically good in 2018, but could look a little different with Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton both entering free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Justin Verlander is also entering the final year of his deal in his age-36 season, and so adding an emerging front-of-the-rotation arm like Paxton -- who does not become a free agent until the end of the 2020 season -- could help Houston stay ahead of the curve.

Seattle would likely want a significant haul (especially from a successful division rival like the Astros) for Paxton, who threw his first no-hitter and struck out a career-high 208 batters last season.

Would the Mets part with Thor to bring Bryant to New York?
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 Nathan 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.

Altuve says he will be ready for spring, addresses Gonzalez free agency
Nov. 11: Jose Altuve said Sunday that he expects to be "120 percent" ready by the start of Spring Training after undergoing surgery to repair a patella avulsion fracture in his right knee last month. The Astros' star second baseman, who's currently in the early stages of rehab, injured his knee sliding into second base in July.

Utility man Marwin Gonzalez filled in for Altuve at second base when Altuve was limited to designated hitter in the American League Championship Series and made 24 starts at the position in the regular season. If Altuve isn't ready or is limited to begin next season, Gonzalez may not be an option for Houston as he's currently a free agent.

"I don't think there's a single team in MLB that doesn't like Marwin," Altuve said. "For me, he's the savior. You have a problem, you call Marwin. That's one of the reasons why it's going to be really hard to get him back because he's in such high demand right now."

Altuve's words echo previous reports that Gonzalez has been a hot commodity on the open market. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported last week for Fancred Sports that nearly every MLB club has at least some level of interest in the versatile 29-year-old, who played every position besides catcher and pitcher this season.

The Astros opted not to extend a $17.9 million qualifying offer to Gonzalez, so they won't receive Draft compensation if he signs elsewhere.

Video: Altuve on Astros' free agents, 2019 season 

Will Corbin return to the franchise that drafted him?
Nov. 11: Sure, the Yankees appear to be the favorite to land left-hander Patrick Corbin at this point, but according to MLB.com's Free Agent Matrix, there could be other serious players in the mix, including the Angels. It was the Angels that drafted Corbin in the second round of the 2009 Draft, but they traded him to the D-backs before he made his big league debut.

The Angels could definitely use an upgrade in their rotation, particularly with Shohei Ohtani unable to pitch next season after having Tommy John surgery. With Ohtani, Mike Trout and Corbin, perhaps Los Angeles could finally get back to the postseason. Corbin would be coming full circle, and it would make for a very intriguing move.

Four logical trade fits for Carlos Santana

Philly doesn't have to trade the first baseman, but the club will have suitors
MLB.com @mike_petriello

The Phillies need to make some changes to their lineup this winter; that much has been obvious for some time. Maybe that's importing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or both, but no matter how it happens, this is a group that had baseball's seventh-worst OPS+, ninth-fewest runs scored and some of the weakest defense we've seen in years.

The easiest way to begin solving the defensive problem is relatively simple. They need to take left fielder Rhys Hoskins, who was probably the least effective outfield defender in the NL last year, and move him back to first base, which is where he was playing before Philadelphia signed Carlos Santana last winter. In order to do that, they'd likely need to trade Santana, and that's exactly what they may do, as they are reportedly shopping him heavily to other teams.

The Phillies need to make some changes to their lineup this winter; that much has been obvious for some time. Maybe that's importing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or both, but no matter how it happens, this is a group that had baseball's seventh-worst OPS+, ninth-fewest runs scored and some of the weakest defense we've seen in years.

The easiest way to begin solving the defensive problem is relatively simple. They need to take left fielder Rhys Hoskins, who was probably the least effective outfield defender in the NL last year, and move him back to first base, which is where he was playing before Philadelphia signed Carlos Santana last winter. In order to do that, they'd likely need to trade Santana, and that's exactly what they may do, as they are reportedly shopping him heavily to other teams.

Forget the optics of potentially trading Santana after just one year of his three-year deal. If the right move comes along to improve the team on the field in 2019 and '20, then that's absolutely what the Phillies should do. If you're going to fix the defense, another year of Hoskins in left full-time is simply untenable. In order to figure out how to best achieve that, there are really three questions to answer, so let's dig into each one.

1) Do they have to trade Santana to move Hoskins back to first? Probably! But not definitely.

2) What kind of player could interested teams expect to get in Santana? Better than you might think, as we'll show you shortly.

3) Who might be interested in trading for Santana? First base/DH types in their 30s aren't generally in high demand, but there is one thing about this offseason's market that does work in Philadelphia's favor.

Let's explain all that, in order.

Video: PHI@COL: Santana goes the other way for 2-run blast

1) The Phillies should probably trade Santana, but they don't necessarily have to.

If you want Hoskins back at first, the simplest thing to do is to trade Santana (and non-tender Justin Bour, probably). Then add Harper, or another outfielder like A.J. Pollock or Andrew McCutchen, and things look much cleaner.

But it's not a must-do, either. Third baseman Maikel Franco is a good bet to be traded, according to one report, and Santana did get into 19 late-season games at third. You wouldn't want him there on a daily basis if you're trying to fix the defense, but there's at least an argument for a job share where Hoskins only has to play left field once or twice a week, and Santana rotates between first, third and pinch-hitting. That's maybe not what you'd expect for the $35 million still due Santana, but it also doesn't matter: He's a quality player, and the Phillies can afford it. They need more quality players, not fewer.

Even in what was something of a down year for Santana -- more on that in a minute -- he was tied, essentially, with Hoskins and Cesar Hernandez for the best on-base percentage on the team. The Phillies didn't have enough bats as it was last year; take him away, and now you need even more.

2) Santana's year was both "poor for him" and "better than you'd think."

Let's start with the place most people start. Santana had a .229 batting average. It was the lowest of any season of his career. That's enough for many to think that his first year in Philadelphia was a failure, but it's not that simple, mostly because teams don't use just batting average to evaluate hitters. (Not that it's not telling you anything here; while hitting lefty, Santana was shifted against 85 percent of the time, third-most of any regular lefty hitter.)

That said, it really wasn't a great year for him. Santana's .352 on-base percentage, while still a strongly above-average figure (the 2018 non-pitcher Major League average was .323), was down from his pre-Phillies average of .365. His .414 slugging was his second-worst, and below his pre-Phillies average of .445.

But it's important to remember just how rough his April was. Santana hit only .153/.295 /.276 in his first month with the Phillies. It was the second-worst month of his career; it was so rough that it was barely two weeks into the season when we called him "baseball's early hard-luck hitter," pointing out that he was still hitting the ball with such authority that his numbers would have to pick up.

They did, to an astonishingly consistent extent. Check out what Santana did from May 1 as compared to his career numbers or his 2019 projections. You can't tell them apart. They're identical.

After May 1:
.245/.364/.444, 119 wRC+

Career:
.247/.363/.442 ,121 wRC+

2019 Steamer projection:
.242/.359/.445, 119 wRC+

The point there is that Santana's lousy April shouldn't meaningfully change what you think about him. In addition, by walking 110 times against only 93 strikeouts, Santana gained entry into a pretty exclusive club. Only three other players took at least 400 plate appearances and walked as much as (or more than) they struck out. The other three? Joey Votto, Alex Bregman and Jose Ramirez. That's a list you want to be on.

Think about it this way: Santana may not be a fit on the 2019 Phillies because of the way their roster is constructed, but that doesn't mean he's not still a quality big league hitter. It just might need to be somewhere else.

Video: PHI@TOR: Santana makes tought over-the-shoulder grab

3) The main reason teams might be interested in trading for Santana -- and who might do it.

Take a look at the current list of free agents, focusing on first basemen. What you'll notice there is that there is not one single starting-caliber first-base option available. World Series hero Steve Pearce is probably the most notable name, but he'll be 36 and has never taken even 400 plate appearances in a season. 

That means if you want a first baseman, you're trading for Paul Goldschmidt, who is a superior player to Santana but would cost far more, or perhaps Jose Abreu, if the White Sox are willing to let him go. Santana is projected to be the 12th-best first baseman in 2019; while that doesn't include Hoskins, it also sounds about right, because it's slightly better than average.

So, let's assume that the Phillies would take on some of his remaining salary. Where could we find fits?

Rockies

Last year's Colorado team was fueled by outstanding starting pitching, but ultimately fell short due to a lack of offensive depth. Nowhere was that more noticeable than at first base, where the Rockies had a .232/.314/.405 line that was the third-weakest in baseball. Headed into 2019, they're projected in the same range, tied for fourth-weakest, because Ian Desmond's .236/.307/.422 (81 wRC+) last year just wasn't good enough; he ought to be moved into a multi-positional backup role.

The Rockies could just go with ready-now Ryan McMahon, but he hasn't proven much yet, and there's plenty of ways to find time between the lefty McMahon, who can also play second or third, and the switch-hitting Santana. A contact hitter like Santana would also be an interesting fit in Denver, as the enormous Coors Field outfield could help him find a few extra hits. 

Twins

Ideally, however, Santana goes to an AL team where he can take some time as a DH. Minnesota fits the bill well, because now that Joe Mauer is retired and Logan Morrison is a free agent, they have plenty of time available at first base and DH, even if Tyler Austin is likely to get some opportunities there. If you combine those two spots, the Twins had the third-weakest 1B/DH combo in 2018, so even a slightly above-average hitter like Santana would be an upgrade, as well as providing insurance for the relatively unproven Austin.

Video: NYM@PHI: Santana drills a 2-run homer off scoreboard

Mariners

It's a little difficult to know how Seattle is approaching 2019, though we do know there was reportedly some interest in Santana last year. We also know that general manager Jerry Dipoto is a more frantic trader than anyone else in the game, and you can expect more of that this offseason.

"We've not been huge players in free agency to begin with," Dipoto said last week. "A lot of that will be defined by what we wind up doing by trade. I'd never say never, but I'd say that's not our first path."

Last year's DH, Nelson Cruz, is a free agent, and Ryon Healy (who hit .235/.277/.412 in 2018) is no roadblock. The Mariners are projected for the 25th-best first base performance in 2019, though it remains to be seen how much time Robinson Cano gets there.

Angels

Any year with Mike Trout is a year you need to try to win in, and the Angels may only have two of them left. While they need starting pitching help, they could also use a bat, too, and their first-base situation is dire, projected to be the second-weakest in baseball. That, of course, has everything to do with the fact that Shohei Ohtani should get the bulk of the plate appearances at DH, forcing Albert Pujols once again to first base. The Angels would be better off bidding Pujols farewell and trading for Santana, though we admit it's unlikely. 

Santana is a solid bat, last year's slow start aside. The market is rarely friendly to over-30 players who are 1B/DH types, and perhaps this year won't be any different, so maybe staying in Philadelphia is the best outcome -- there's no value in trading him just to trade him. If not, however, someone will be interested. There's a fit out there.

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Carlos Santana

Yankees' Machado research is 'extensive'

MLB.com

Manny Machado has been one of the game's best players since debuting in 2012, and he is set to cash in as a first-time free agent this offseason.

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

Manny Machado has been one of the game's best players since debuting in 2012, and he is set to cash in as a first-time free agent this offseason.

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

Yankees doing "extensive" background work on Machado
Nov. 12: It's still a little murky how strong the Yankees' pursuit of Machado will actually be. But they're definitely doing their due diligence.

According to The Athletic's Jayson Stark (subscription required), the Yankees have been doing "particularly extensive" background work on Machado, even beyond the typical amount of background information teams routinely seek about potential free-agent or trade targets.

Sources told Stark that Yankees manager Aaron Boone, front-office members and scouts are all among those who "calling around" about Machado.

The superstar shortstop remains a clear fit for the Yankees, with Didi Gregorius out indefinitely as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

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.

Should Cubs choose Machado over Bryant? Brisbee thinks so.
Nov. 11: SB Nation senior baseball writer Grant Brisbee decided to chime in on the Machado debate with a lengthy column in which he debates the advantages and disadvantages of several teams' pursuits of the 26-year-old shortstop, including the Yankees, Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and Padres.

In his search for an ideal fit for Machado, Brisbee considers four factors: extra money to spend, a fan base that needs a jolt, a robust farm system that can allow them to subsidize a superstar for the coming years, and a young team.

"We need the Padres. Machado needs the Padres. The Padres need Machado," Brisbee writes.

Brisbee points to the Eric Hosmer contract as an example of the Padres making an expensive, long-term investment in a player that could play a key role on a future team in contention, but concedes that Machado playing his home games in Petco Park remains a long shot. He ultimately concludes that he expects Machado to sign a 10-year, $330 million contract to play for the Cubs.

He doesn't feel that it's a coincidence that Kris Bryant trade rumors are gaining steam now, when Machado is also on the market. He writes that for the Cubs, it could be a matter of committing $300 million to a 29-year-old Bryant after the 2021 season versus making a similar commitment to a 26-year-old Machado right now -- and also reaping the benefits of whatever top prospects they would gain in a trade involving Bryant.

Would Harper or Machado be enough for Phillies to contend?
Nov. 10: In hopes of contending next year, the Phillies are expected to make a run at big-name free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this offseason. But Jonah Keri of CBS Sports argues that adding one of those players might not be enough to spark a postseason run in 2019.

As Keri points out, the last three World Series winners -- the Cubs, the Astros and the Red Sox -- all had a strong core in place before adding to it in free agency. The Phils, though, have a ton of question marks after Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins.

Philadelphia's roster isn't barren, but Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez are coming off poor second halves, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin haven't proven to be consistent rotation options, and neither J.P. Crawford nor Scott Kingery have lived up to expectations as former top prospects.

Keri writes that signing Harper or Machado -- potentially for $400 million -- should be part of a larger free-agency plan that involves adding relief help as well as a starting pitcher. Keri names J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton, who has expressed his desire to be close to his wife's family's Delaware home, as potential options.

Meanwhile, Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that this offseason could get tricky for the Phillies, with the markets for Harper and Machado potentially playing out slowly as their agents -- Scott Boras and Dan Lozano, respectively -- try to land the longest and most lucrative deal possible. As Lauber writes, neither agent is going to want his client to be the first of the two to sign, instead preferring to let the other player set the market. Moreover, the longer each player's free agency endures, the more likely it is that other teams will join the bidding.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has indicated that he won't wait around for Harper or Machado if he has a chance to improve the team.

"We're not going to forgo opportunities early in the offseason because we're waiting on something else," Klentak said this past week during the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. "If there are good opportunities for us to improve our club now or in the coming weeks or months that make sense for us, we will do it."

Will Yankees make competitive bid for Machado?
Nov. 10: While the Yankees continue to be connected to both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News does not think the club is a likely suitor for either player.

Madden wrote Saturday that New York "will monitor the Manny Machado sweepstakes, if only because he has previously expressed a desire to play for the Yankees and his market may be more limited than you might think."

But teams such as the Phillies are expected to offer more than $300 million for Machado, and Maddon doesn't expect New York will want to saddle itself with another potential albatross after being burned by the Alex Rodriguez and Jacoby Ellsbury deals.

Said one former big league executive: "All you have to know with Machado is he says he's no 'Charlie hustle' or whatever before he even gets the money. What's he going to do AFTER he gets the money, when he's got the security and nobody can talk to him? For me, he'd be toxic. To give that guy 10 years? That's one bad contract waiting to happen."

Meanwhile, 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.

Murti: No matter what Yanks say, don't count them out on Machado or Harper
Nov. 9: The Yankees say that they're focused on starting pitching this offseason. The Yankees say that they're not interested in Bryce Harper. The Yankees say that Machado is a back-burner item. WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti says to ignore all that.

"They tell everybody right now that they have no level of interest in these guys, but that doesn't mean anything at this point in time," Murti said in a Friday interview on MLB Now.

Murti goes on to explain that he feels that the Yankees are distancing themselves because they're not willing to pursue 12-year or 14-year deals with Machado or Harper, but if they remain on the market and New York feels that they can fill holes on the roster, he "guarantees" that the Yankees are still part of the equation.

"I will never believe a guy like Harper or Machado is not a Yankee until I see him holding up another jersey and wearing another cap at the podium," Murti said.

Murti pointed to the Yankees' past signings of Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira as examples of pursuits in which New York distanced itself at the start before ultimately choosing to pull the trigger on both. And Murti also feels the Yankees have more of a need than they would indicate at shortstop with the uncertainty around Didi Gregorius, pointing to the time in 2013 when Derek Jeter's injury necessitated them scrambling to find Luis Cruz to fill the gap.

With that said, this time could be different, with the Yankees finally having dropped below the luxury tax threshold after 15 straight years of being penalized, and owner Hal Steinbrenner reportedly reluctant to make another significant commitment.

Will last year's acquisition of Stanton cost Yankees Harper or Machado?
Nov. 9: The Yankees made a blockbuster move to acquire slugger Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins last offseason, also taking on $265 million remaining on his contract after Miami agreed to pick up $30 million in the trade. Did that acquisition make it unlikely New York could land one of this year's prized superstars, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

It did, according to SNY's John Harper (no relation), who argues that Stanton's no-trade clause, coupled with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner's aversion to putting another giant contract on the franchise's payroll, makes the chances of Harper or Machado landing in the Bronx slim to none. The Yankees have also made it very apparent their first priority this offseason is starting pitching.

Who is the better investment: Harper or Machado?
Nov. 9: With both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado expected to command a long-term contract valued at more than $300 million this offseason, the question arises: which young superstar is the better investment?

ESPN's Bradford Doolittle takes a shot at answering that question, and he comes to the conclusion that Harper is the better bet. In a nutshell, Harper has more value offensively, and Machado has more value defensively, but Doolittle sees the offensive advantage Harper brings to the table outweighing Machado's superior defensive ability.

Obviously, these types of decisions are subject to many other factors, including positional need, for the different clubs that may pursue the two sluggers. But in a vacuum, Doolittle sees a Harper mega-deal paying off more than one for Machado.

What does the future hold for Harper and Machado?
Nov. 9: Since being drafted first and third overall, respectively, in the 2010 MLB Draft, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have become two of the biggest stars in baseball. And regardless of where the two players land in free agency this offseason, the signing clubs will surely be hoping they'll be as good or better over the next decade.

History paints a positive picture about what teams might be able to expect, with some exceptions.

According to FanGraphs, Harper and Machado have each generated roughly 30 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in their careers. To determine potential future outcomes for the duo, MLB.com's Andrew Simon took a look at 43 players who each also recorded between 20-40 WAR through their age-25 seasons and have seen at least 10 years pass since then.

Breaking down WAR totals from their age 26-35 seasons, Simon found Willie Mays (92.2 WAR), Barry Bonds (79.1) and Hank Aaron (75.7) to be the cream of the crop, and seven players -- Rickey Henderson (62.1 WAR), Carl Yastrzemski (58.2), Frank Robinson (57.9), Eddie Mathews (56.7), George Brett (53.7), Albert Pujols (51.8) and Cal Ripken Jr. (50.9) -- qualified as all-time greats. Simon put an additional 16 players in the superstars group.

Fifteen players were productive for a while, but injuries and/or age typically caught up to them, with David Wright serving as a representative example. On the lower end of the spectrum, Simon lists Jim Ray Hart (4.0 WAR) and Grady Sizemore (1.4) as the worst-case scenarios. Sizemore posted 27.2 WAR over his first four full seasons, ranking fourth in the Majors, behind only Pujols, Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez. But due to injuries, the outfielder barely collected 1,000 at-bats between 2010-15, and he played his final season in '15 at age 32.

Yankees not all-in on Machado, but remain opportunistic
Nov. 8: The Yankees will be tied to Machado for as long as he's available, because, well, they're the Yankees and have the payroll to give him his long-term deal, and Machado is a generational talent that fills a short-term need at shortstop. But according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, New York is more fixated on acquiring two starting pitchers this offseason and Machado is currently a "back-burner item."

With only Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and now CC Sabathia appearing to be locked into rotation spots for 2019, that's a more pressing need than breaking the bank for a shortstop, and with the Yankees finally falling below the luxury tax threshold in 2018, the Steinbrenners might be loath to give up payroll flexibility by locking up a long-term commitment to Machado alongside the 13-year deal already owed to Giancarlo Stanton.

Sherman indicates that the most likely path for the Yankees is, indeed, adding two starters and a temporary replacement for Gregorius. But he also points out that after 2008, when Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were available to cement a championship contender, the Steinbrenners were convinced to make the commitment. The same thing happened with Tanaka prior to the 2014 season.

So with the Yankees, it's never say never, as they've shown that they're not averse to changing their plans when the market dictates it. And as Andy Martino of SNY point out, the market might still be shaping up for the Yankees to make an opportunistic push for Machado.

If the Phillies win the competition for Bryce Harper, as would be suggested by recent reports, Machado could lose perhaps his most aggressive suitor. And while the White Sox or a mystery team could still choose to go all-in on the shortstop, the Yankees could swoop in if the market cools enough to drive the asking price to a more reasonable level.

Dodgers, Mets unlikely to pursue Machado
Nov. 8: Machado himself already hinted that a reunion with the Dodgers would be unlikely after he posted a thank-you message to the Dodgers and their fans on Instagram following the World Series. Now, a return to Los Angeles seems even more unlikely after a Thursday report by the Los Angeles Times that shortstop Corey Seager will likely be ready for Spring Training after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April and a hip operation in August.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman confirmed to the Los Angeles Times at the General Managers Meetings that Seager will return as a shortstop, meaning that the Dodgers' infield is simply too crowded for Machado. Justin Turner and David Freese can both play third base, and though Turner could move to first, that would block Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy from regular playing time.

The Mets, on the other hand, do have a clear fit for Machado, with a need for a powerful right-handed bat in the middle of their lineup and struggling hitters in Todd Frazier and Amed Rosario installed on the left side of the infield. They've maintained that they're in win-now mode under the reign of new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.

But a source told Matt Ehalt of NorthJersey.com that the Mets are not expected to pursue Machado, with Van Wagenen's focus after the GM Meetings instead centered around finding relief pitching, a catcher and outfield options this offseason. According to Ehalt, the Mets would prefer to make several impactful acquisitions instead of a franchise-altering commitment to someone like Machado.

Where will Machado sign?
Nov. 8: That's a pretty simple question with a much less simple answer. Manny Machado, after all, would make every team in baseball better, but not every team can both afford and fit him into its roster.

So the friendly folks at Cut4 broke out the Free Agent Matrix to analyze which clubs are best positioned to target the star shortstop (or third baseman). The favorites? Well, sure, it's the Phillies and Yankees, who both have lots of money to spend and a need on the left side of their infields. But there are a few dark horses in this race, too. Wanna see who they are? Of course you do. (And c'mon, you also wanna lay eyes on the well-designed matrix, which covers all 30 teams.)

Oh, and while you're there, go ahead and vote for which team YOU think will land Machado.

Showalter, Britton on Machado's mentality
Nov. 7: A portion of the coverage surrounding Manny Machado's free agency has been focused on the superstar's personality and mentality in the wake of a few highly publicized on- and off-field gaffes related to his lack of hustle and questionable dirty play (i.e., running over Jesus Aguilar's foot and sliding aggressively into second base). The big question: How much will that impact Machado's market, if at all?

Video: NLCS Gm4: Machado on altercation with Aguilar

In a story for the New York Post, MLB Network insider Joel Sherman discussed Machado with Buck Showalter. The money quote from Showalter, who managed Machado for the first six-and-a-half seassons of the star's career in Baltimore:

"Manny loves baseball, but who knows what happens when someone gets this kind of [financial] commitment. Will it make him more driven or more lackadaisical with that kind of commitment? No one is smart enough to know that. What I know is that his talent plays. There is no doubt he will listen if he respects you. Are there going to be times you have to define reality to him? Yes."

Meanwhile, former longtime teammate Zach Britton -- a free agent himself this offseason -- made supportive comments about Machado in an appearance on MLB Network Radio. "I know the guy he is in the clubhouse and the guy he is off the field, and that guy overshadows any of the stuff people may see on TV," Britton said. "He's a really good guy and a really good teammate."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Zach Britton: Manny Machado's postseason antics should not overshadow the type of player he is. #Dodgers #Orioles pic.twitter.com/k69ekMl3Y4

Character certainly is something teams take into account when considering acquiring players, especially ones who are likely to cost upward of $300 million over a long-term deal like Machado is expected to get. While there might be some questions in this vein about Machado, he's also one of the very best players in the sport, and having a former manager and teammate back him up is a positive sign.

Phils not ruling out Machado over character concerns
Nov. 7: The Phillies have been long linked to Machado (and Bryce Harper, for that matter), but after the superstar shortstop's skirmishes in the postseason, speculation surfaced about whether Philly -- or any club, for that matter -- would have concerns over Machado's character when contemplating giving him a lucrative contract. 

Phils GM Matt Klentak wouldn't speak directly about Machado when asked about such assertions at the GM Meetings on Tuesday, but he did offer more clarity on where the club might stand on the matter. 

"We have to factor in everything," Klentak told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "I'm being vague because I don't want to address that particular player, as you can tell. But it's something that we will incorporate into our decision-making process, whether it's a superstar player or a complementary player or whether it's extending an internal player, whether it's a Minor League free agent, whether it's hiring a staff member. We really do a thorough assessment of the individual. We're going to evaluate that, and the decision might be to not sign that person. But it really comes down to the balance of all the factors. It's not that complicated."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: The hot stove season is here. If your favorite team is thinking about signing Manny Machado, how worried are you about the character concerns? pic.twitter.com/Ddsx219bXe

Phils don't seem afraid of Machado's baggage

The Phillies, who were prominently linked to Machado ahead of last season's non-waiver Trade Deadline, are on a short list of favorites to land the 26-year-old. But given Machado's exploits in the postseason -- tripping over Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar's foot and claiming that he's not "Johnny Hustle" -- speculation has surfaced if those behaviors will affect his free-agent stock. 

In 2017, Machado was accused of purposefully sliding hard into Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, which allegedly prompted Boston to throw at Machado on purpose in retaliation. Machado then lashed out in an expletive-laden rant in response during a TV interview when asked about the matter. In 2016, Machado tussled with Yordano Ventura when the former Royals starter intentionally threw at him. And in 2014, Machado was suspended five games for tossing a bat into the A's infield in what was perceived retaliation for Josh Donaldson, then with Oakland, sliding hard into Machado at third prior. 

Video: Must C Confrontation: Machado's mad charge at Ventura

All of this has been brought to light given that Machado has been touted to earn a contract in exceess of 10 years and $300 million by some pundits. 

"When we are evaluating players, we do our best to evaluate the total player, everything that player brings to the table," Klentak said. "Offense, defense, baserunning, their makeup and work ethic, their age, their health histories and a couple other things. We factor in all of those characteristics into how we evaluate the player. We make roster and contract decisions accordingly.

"It's unlikely you're going to find a player that's elite in every single one of those areas. If you do, he's probably not going to be a free agent. Sometimes you have to pick and choose what you're willing to bet on."

Will Padres trade Myers to make room for Machado?
Nov. 6: There have been several big market teams linked to Manny Machado, but what about the Padres? After all, they did land one of the top free agent hitters last offseason in Eric Hosmer, as they sought a veteran clubhouse leader to add to a mix of young players. San Diego was mentioned as one of the top three suitors for Machado by MLB Network Radio analyst and former MLB general manager Jim Duquette.

Sources tell MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal that the Padres could look to move Wil Myers, who is two years into the six-year, $83 million extension he signed in January 2017, to clear salary as the club looks to address its needs at third base and in the rotation.

According to Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), the Padres are comfortable with Franmil Reyes in left and Hunter Renfroe in right, and they have Hosmer entrenched at first base, leaving Myers without an obvious place to play. Myers did start 36 games at the hot corner in 2018, but he didn't show enough defensively to suggest he can be a long-term option at the position (though, in fairness, he was put there on short notice and with no prior experience). 

It's unclear whether Padres general manager A.J. Preller and the rest of the San Diego front office will pursue the biggest names on the market, but as he told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune, the General Managers Meetings provide an opportunity to gauge the field.

"You just want to leave there with as many answers and a clear sense of what's realistic and what's probably not going to line up free agent-wise and trade-wise," Preller said. "You find out 'This is what it's going to cost' and 'This is what it's going to be in terms of a trade.' … We are definitely prepared. We've put together target groups, different game plans. You start to work your way through them."

Manny Machado

deGrom's future unclear as agent becomes GM

Ace 'willing to explore' extension as Van Wagenen settles in
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- As Brodie Van Wagenen navigated the Mets' general manager interview process earlier this month, he stayed in close contact with Jacob deGrom and his other clients at CAA. Unwilling to blindside deGrom with the news that he might change jobs, Van Wagenen kept his star client updated on what was happening.

Shortly after Van Wagenen became GM, divesting himself of all interests in CAA and forfeiting the chance to represent deGrom in contract negotiations, he chatted again on the phone with his ex-client.

NEW YORK -- As Brodie Van Wagenen navigated the Mets' general manager interview process earlier this month, he stayed in close contact with Jacob deGrom and his other clients at CAA. Unwilling to blindside deGrom with the news that he might change jobs, Van Wagenen kept his star client updated on what was happening.

Shortly after Van Wagenen became GM, divesting himself of all interests in CAA and forfeiting the chance to represent deGrom in contract negotiations, he chatted again on the phone with his ex-client.

"Have you talked to my agent?" deGrom recalled asking him.

"I don't know who that is," Van Wagenen deadpanned.

"Yeah, me neither," deGrom said, laughing.

For now, deGrom is still working out that detail, as he tries to determine how Van Wagenen's move to the Mets' front office might affect him. Back in July, Van Wagenen was vocal in saying the Mets should either sign deGrom to a long-term deal or trade him. Like most around baseball, deGrom is unsure if his agent's career change will facilitate either of those things. (Van Wagenen has language written into his contract that he cannot fight deGrom in arbitration, among other limitations, given the nature of their past dealings.)

"That's what I'm still trying to wrap my head around over this past week, week and a half," deGrom said in a telephone interview. "I've had conversations with him since then, and they've been good. It's still a little confusing for me, I guess."

Upon leaving the GM Meetings last Friday in Carlsbad, Calif., Van Wagenen expressed interest in locking deGrom up to a long-term deal. But the two sides have not engaged in negotiations, which is nothing new for deGrom (and nothing abnormal for this point in the offseason). Ex-GM Sandy Alderson never approached deGrom about a contract extension during his tenure, despite the pitcher's interest in making something happen.

"I've remained steadfast that I think he's tremendous," Van Wagenen said. "I'd love to try to keep him if it's possible. We'll explore that in the coming weeks."

deGrom's position has not changed since the end of the season.

"I think anybody is open to an extension if it's right for you and your family," said deGrom, who is under team control through the 2020 season, at which point he will be 32 years old. "Nothing is guaranteed in this game until you sign that deal or hit free agency and sign a deal there. You just have to sit down and, at the end of the day, look at what's right for you and your family and kind of make a decision based upon that.

"I really do enjoy playing in New York. The fans have treated me great. I enjoy taking the mound at Citi Field in front of them, and it's rare that a guy spends his career with one team. If that was something that they wanted to do, and me and [my wife] Stacey felt like it was the right move for us, then we'd be willing to definitely explore that."

No matter what happens this offseason, deGrom will enter next year in an enviable position. MLB Trade Rumors projects his salary to jump from $7.4 million to $12.9 million, after he went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA. He is an overwhelming favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award, which the Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

Although deGrom knows he stands an excellent chance of taking home the award, he remains anxious for the announcement.

"That was a goal of mine," deGrom said. "I've said it for the past couple of years -- you win a Cy Young Award, you were probably the best pitcher in your league that year. Yeah, I'm nervous. It's something that I've set as a goal, and [I] would definitely like to win it."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jacob deGrom

The case for each AL Manager of the Year finalist

MLB.com

It's difficult to make an argument against any of the three finalists for the 2018 American League Manager of the Year Award. In many other years, Alex Cora of the Red Sox would have been a runaway winner after leading Boston to the most wins in franchise history and a World Series championship -- in his first year at the helm of the team. But nobody in the league did more with less than Oakland's Bob Melvin and Tampa Bay's Kevin Cash, who turned young, low-cost rosters into a shocking 97 wins and an AL Wild Card Game berth for the A's and 90 wins for the Rays.

With the 2018 AL Manager of the Year set to be revealed in Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET announcement on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each of the finalists.

It's difficult to make an argument against any of the three finalists for the 2018 American League Manager of the Year Award. In many other years, Alex Cora of the Red Sox would have been a runaway winner after leading Boston to the most wins in franchise history and a World Series championship -- in his first year at the helm of the team. But nobody in the league did more with less than Oakland's Bob Melvin and Tampa Bay's Kevin Cash, who turned young, low-cost rosters into a shocking 97 wins and an AL Wild Card Game berth for the A's and 90 wins for the Rays.

With the 2018 AL Manager of the Year set to be revealed in Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET announcement on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each of the finalists.

Kevin Cash, Rays
At the helm in one of baseball's smallest markets, every year presents challenges for a manager in Cash's position. But 2018 arguably brought more of one: near-continuous roster turnover, the losses of some of the franchise's most accomplished veterans and an awful start that threatened to make the Rays irrelevant by Memorial Day. How, then, did Tampa Bay finish 2018 with 90 wins, its highest total since 2013?

Much of the credit goes to Cash, the fourth-year skipper who turned one of baseball's most fluid and least experienced rosters into one of the sport's biggest surprises in 2018. Cash has long earned praise from in the industry for his communication and leadership skills and openness to implementing new ideas, and this year, that combination translated to the win column. The Rays played to a .593 winning percentage after starting the year 4-13, overcame injuries to several key pitchers and introduced the revolutionary "opener" strategy to the world.

The Rays used 31 pitchers and 19 rookies and won 28 one-run games. And ultimately, a calendar year that saw Tampa Bay trade veteran stalwarts Evan Longoria, Chris Archer and Alex Colome, among others, ended as the most successful of Cash's tenure.

As a reward, the Rays restructured what was left of Cash's original five-year, $5 million contract and signed him to an extension through 2024, with an option for 2025. That makes Cash, soon to be 41, not only one of the youngest managers in baseball, but also one of the most secure. Any hardware would only add to his resume.

--Joe Trezza

Video: Darling breaks down Cash's Manager of the Year case

Alex Cora, Red Sox
Cora is aiming to be the first Red Sox skipper to be named AL Manager of the Year since Jimy Williams in 1999. Behind Cora, the Red Sox notched a franchise-record 108 wins. With one more victory, Cora would have tied Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees) for the most ever for a rookie manager.

With largely the same roster as in 2017, the Sox improved their win total by 15 games. That had a lot to do with the 43-year-old Cora, who drew rave reviews for the way he communicated with his players and for the way he blended analytics into his daily life in the dugout.

The process of Cora getting his players to buy in started in the weeks before Spring Training, when he went on a winter caravan to various regions of the country and met with most of the players on the team.

For his hitters, Cora preached hunting for pitches rather than being passive early in the count. This resulted in MVP finalist Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts both having major upticks in their numbers from the previous season. Cora also kept all of his position players involved all season, which made role players effective and also kept his starters fresh.

From a pitching standpoint, Cora closely managed the workload of the staff from the start of Spring Training through the end of the regular season, always with the postseason in mind. That enabled him to empty the tank in October as pitchers like David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi went back and forth from the rotation to bullpen -- "rovers," as Cora called them.

In pressurized Boston, Cora remained unflappable. When he made a mistake, he usually owned up to it before anyone got the chance to criticize him.

--Ian Browne

Video: Reynolds on Cora's Manager of the Year candidacy

Bob Melvin, Athletics
Melvin, already deemed the winner of the Sporting News AL Manager of the Year Award last month, is a frontrunner for yet another BBWAA honor. The longtime manager is a two-time winner of the prestigious award, having earned it with Arizona in 2007 and Oakland in 2012.

There's good reason for Melvin to win another, after he guided the A's to a surprising 97-win campaign -- the fourth-best record in the Majors -- and took them to the Wild Card Game against the Yankees despite fielding a team with the lowest Opening Day payroll in the league. Faced with limited resources and a host of injuries, Melvin and the A's scripted one of baseball's best stories in 2018. He effortlessly managed a ransacked rotation, a bullpen with multiple moving parts and a mostly inexperienced lineup, his players continuously showing faith in his decision-making throughout.

Their 22-win improvement amazingly marked the third time Melvin has led a team to a 20-game improvement. While they were eliminated by the Yankees in the Wild Card Game in the Bronx, the A's appear poised to compete for years to come, thanks in no small part to Melvin.

--Jane Lee

Video: Lee on Melvin's chances to win AL Manager of the Year

Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays

The case for each NL Manager of the Year finalist

MLB.com

The Dodgers may have represented the National League in the World Series for the second straight season, but the remainder of the NL Division Series field was comprised of a trio of more unexpected teams led by this year's finalists for NL Manager of the Year. Brian Snitker's Braves overcame the Nationals and Phillies to reach the postseason ahead of schedule, while Bud Black's Rockies took the next step with a win over the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. But most significantly, Craig Counsell and the Brewers embraced the unorthodox, opening and bullpenning their way to within one game of the NL pennant.

With the 2018 NL Manager of the Year set to be revealed in Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET announcement on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each of the finalists.

The Dodgers may have represented the National League in the World Series for the second straight season, but the remainder of the NL Division Series field was comprised of a trio of more unexpected teams led by this year's finalists for NL Manager of the Year. Brian Snitker's Braves overcame the Nationals and Phillies to reach the postseason ahead of schedule, while Bud Black's Rockies took the next step with a win over the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. But most significantly, Craig Counsell and the Brewers embraced the unorthodox, opening and bullpenning their way to within one game of the NL pennant.

With the 2018 NL Manager of the Year set to be revealed in Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET announcement on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each of the finalists.

Bud Black, Rockies
To begin, there's history: The Rockies had never qualified for the postseason in consecutive years until Black, who was a finalist last year when the Rockies appeared in the Wild Card Game, took them a step further -- to the NL Division Series -- in 2018. And after being eight games out of first place in the NL West on June 28 and losing five of six from Sept. 14-19, the Rockies finished 162 games in a dead heat with the Dodgers at 91 wins (the second-highest win total in club history). Only a loss in a tiebreaker game separated the Rockies from their first division title in their 26-season history.

Black navigated through some difficult times. The offense's .256 batting average and .225 road average were club record-lows. Yet, the Rockies won a club-record 44 road games.

Last offseason, the Rockies signed closer Wade Davis, righty setup man Bryan Shaw and lefty setup man Jake McGee to three-year deals totaling $106 million. While Davis finished with 43 saves, he had a couple of difficult periods, and Shaw and McGee struggled to the point they weren't included on the postseason roster. But by season's end, Black navigated through the slumps and the relievers were a driving force down the stretch.

Ultimately, the success reflected the values of Black, the only former pitcher to manage the Rockies. His leadership helped the Rockies become the first team since the 2011 Rays to have every game started by someone who had never pitched for another Major League team.

--Thomas Harding

Craig Counsell, Brewers
Counsell, who grew up in Milwaukee and played for the Brewers before moving to the dugout in 2015, finished fourth in NL Manager of the Year balloting a year ago but is a finalist this time after Milwaukee surged to a 96-67 finish in the regular season, matching the franchise record for victories in a season with a win over the Cubs in a NL Central tiebreaker that secured the third division crown in franchise history. That came as part of a late-season winning streak that stretched to 12 games, including the final eight games of the regular season.

Counsell's imprint was evident, especially down the stretch as he juggled a position player group with many movable pieces and squeezed the most out of a pitching staff that lacked an ace.

In both areas, it worked. The Brewers went from "too many outfielders" in Spring Training to "too many infielders" in July, but Travis Shaw successfully shifted to second base and the Brewers, led by NL Most Valuable Player Award finalist Christian Yelich, ranked fourth in MLB with a .781 OPS after the All-Star break. On the pitching front, the Brewers ranked fifth in MLB with a 3.73 ERA despite missing 2017 ace Jimmy Nelson for the entire season while he recovered from shoulder surgery, and steps back for Chase Anderson and Zach Davies. The difference was a strong bullpen led by multi-inning lefty Josh Hader and co-closers Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, whom Counsell used aggressively in September as the Brewers chased down the Cubs.

--Adam McCalvy

Video: Reynolds on Counsell's NL Manager of the Year case

Brian Snitker, Braves
After Snitker spoke to his players upon inheriting a 9-28 Braves team during the 2016 season, Freddie Freeman says he and his teammates walked away feeling like they were 28-9. The beloved manager's upbeat personality and optimism guided Atlanta through the final stages of a rebuild and helped create the culture that allowed an underdog bunch to claim an unexpected division title this year.

Picked by many to finish fourth in the NL East, the Braves spent 115 days in first place and never experienced anything longer than a four-game losing streak. Snitker's calm approach fueled the resiliency of this Atlanta club that blew a six-run, eighth-inning lead to the Red Sox on Sept. 5 and then proceeded to essentially seal the division by winning seven of the next eight.

Snitker benefited from the MVP-caliber production Freeman provided throughout much of the season and the great success NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Ronald Acuna Jr. had after being moved to the leadoff spot after the All-Star break. But he also pushed all of the right buttons with the pitching staff, which was without its only experienced closer for approximately 3 1/2 months. Four of the five relievers who made at least 50 appearances had never previously experienced a full Major League season.

Much of this season's success was also a product of Snitker's willingness to digest and utilize much of the analytical data he was introduced to after general manager Alex Anthopoulos joined the organization last winter. The information simply fortified the leadership strengths he has displayed while spending the past four decades serving the best interests of the Braves organization and his players.

--Mark Bowman

Video: Darling on Snitker's Manager of the Year candidacy

Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies

Vlad Jr. leaving AFL early due to family matter

MLB.com @wboor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s highly anticipated -- and highly successful -- stint in the Arizona Fall League will come to an early end, as baseball's No. 1 prospect is leaving Arizona prior to Tuesday's game to tend to a family matter, sources told MLB Pipeline.

Guerrero went 1-for-3 with two RBIs on Monday to finish with a .351/.398/.446 slash line as the youngest player in the Fall League. After hitting a career-high 20 homers during the regular season, Guerrero didn't homer in Arizona, but he hit seven doubles and consistently made loud contact, regularly registering exit velocities over 100 mph.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s highly anticipated -- and highly successful -- stint in the Arizona Fall League will come to an early end, as baseball's No. 1 prospect is leaving Arizona prior to Tuesday's game to tend to a family matter, sources told MLB Pipeline.

Guerrero went 1-for-3 with two RBIs on Monday to finish with a .351/.398/.446 slash line as the youngest player in the Fall League. After hitting a career-high 20 homers during the regular season, Guerrero didn't homer in Arizona, but he hit seven doubles and consistently made loud contact, regularly registering exit velocities over 100 mph.

The Blue Jays' 19-year-old phenom hit safely in each of his first 13 games, recording multiple hits in seven of those, and was batting .462 before going 3-for-25 over his final two weeks (six games). He ranks fourth in the league in average and RBIs (17) and is tied for second with 27 hits. At 10-17, Guerrero's Surprise Saguaros squad has three games remaining and has been eliminated from contention for Saturday's championship game.

Guerrero was sent to Arizona to make up for lost at-bats after he missed roughly six weeks during the regular season with a strained patellar tendon. When he was healthy, MLB Pipeline's Hitter of the Year hit .381/.437/.636 over 95 games, primarily with Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Phils may have eye on third-base upgrade

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies know Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are not cure-alls. They must find other ways to improve.

Third base is one option.

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies know Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are not cure-alls. They must find other ways to improve.

Third base is one option.

"Part of the fun of this offseason is we don't know which way we're going to go," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week at the GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. "It could be a starter. It could be a reliever. It could be a hitter. It could be a defender. It could be some combination of that. It could be trades. It could be free agen