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Mejia leads list of Top 10 catching prospects

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MLB Pipeline's 2018 Top 10 Catching Prospects list looks a lot like our 2017 edition. Francisco Mejia (Indians) and Carson Kelly (Cardinals) once again occupy the top two spots, though they've flip-flopped from a year ago, and the top five catchers entering 2017 repeat on this year's Top 10.

Mejia is one of six catchers on the list who stand out most with their offensive prowess, while Kelly is the highest ranked of the three backstops who are future Gold Glove candidates. The best all-around catcher might be Keibert Ruiz (Dodgers), who's also the youngest at age 19.

MLB Pipeline's 2018 Top 10 Catching Prospects list looks a lot like our 2017 edition. Francisco Mejia (Indians) and Carson Kelly (Cardinals) once again occupy the top two spots, though they've flip-flopped from a year ago, and the top five catchers entering 2017 repeat on this year's Top 10.

Mejia is one of six catchers on the list who stand out most with their offensive prowess, while Kelly is the highest ranked of the three backstops who are future Gold Glove candidates. The best all-around catcher might be Keibert Ruiz (Dodgers), who's also the youngest at age 19.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

We'll continue to present positional Top 10 Prospects every weekday through Jan. 25, leading up to the reveal of our overall Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday, Jan. 27. We'll unveil the Top 100 on an MLB Network special (simulcast on MLB.com) at 8 p.m. ET.

The Top 10
1. Francisco Mejia, Indians More »
2. Carson Kelly, Cardinals More »
3. Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers More »
4. Sean Murphy, Athletics More »
5. Jake Rogers, Tigers More »
6. Jorge Alfaro, Phillies More »
7. Chance Sisco, Orioles More »
8. Danny Jansen, Blue Jays More »
9. Zack Collins, White Sox More »
10. Victor Caratini, Cubs More »

Top tools

Best hitter: Mejia (60)
After setting a modern Minor League record with a 50-game hitting streak in 2016, he finished seventh in the Double-A Eastern League batting race (.297) at age 21 last year. A switch-hitter adept from both sides of the plate, Mejia rarely swings and misses and has improved his power output for three straight seasons.

Video: Top Prospects: Francisco Mejia, C, Indians

Best power: Alfaro, Collins (55)
Alfaro has more raw power, though Collins' more patient approach may give him more usable pop in the long run. Collins smashed 19 homers in his first full year as a pro in 2017, more than Alfaro has hit in any of his eight seasons. The latter did slug .514 with five homers after Philadelphia called him up in August.

Video: Top Prospects: Zack Collins, C, White Sox

Fastest runner: Alfaro (45)
Though he's 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Alfaro moves well for his size. He's not as aggressive on the bases as he was early in his career, but he's also not a liability like a lot of catchers are.

Video: Top Prospects: Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies

Best arm: Alfaro, Mejia, Murphy (70)
Alfaro, Mejia and Murphy all have plus-plus arm strength, with Murphy possessing the most consistent footwork and release. He led the trio by throwing out 33 percent of basestealers last season, with Alfaro and Mejia each erasing 30 percent.

Best defender: Rogers (70)
While Kelly and Murphy are two of the better defenders at any position in the Minors, Rogers is truly special. Part of the trade that sent Justin Verlander from the Tigers to the Astros in August, he's extremely athletic and agile and has exceptionally soft hands. His quick transfer and impressive accuracy help him play above his solid arm strength, as he eliminated 46 percent of basestealers in 2017.

Video: Top Prospects: Jake Rogers, C, Tigers

Superlatives

Highest ceiling: Mejia
If his power continues to develop and his receiving continues to improve, Mejia could be a .300-hitting, 20-homer catcher. He's gifted enough offensively that Cleveland is exploring different ways to get his bat into the lineup, including trying him at third base in the Arizona Fall League.

Highest floor: Kelly
There's no question that he can do everything needed behind the plate, and Kelly also has the ability to hit for at least decent average and power. Now he just needs Yadier Molina to slow down in St. Louis so he can get some playing time.

Video: Top Prospects: Carson Kelly, C, Cardinals

Rookie of the Year candidate: Alfaro
Alfaro is the lone player on our Top 10 who looks like he'll be his club's starter, though Sisco has a shot with the Orioles and Caratini figures to be the backup with the Cubs. Given his power and the hospitability of Citizens Bank Park, 20 homers aren't out of the question for Alfaro.

Highest riser: Ruiz
He had yet to make his full-season debut coming into 2017, but Ruiz handled that challenge by batting .316/.361/.452 between two Class A stops while playing at age 18 for most of the year. He's a switch-hitter with a precocious feel for hitting and solid defensive potential.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

Humblest beginning: Jansen
A 16th-round pick as a Wisconsin high schooler in 2013, he passed on a commitment to Jacksonville to sign for $100,000. Jansen's career got off to slow start, as he spent two years in Rookie ball and then batted .213 in two years of Class A ball before breaking out n 2017.

Most to prove: Collins
Collins went 10th overall in the 2016 Draft because the White Sox loved his power and patience, and he hasn't disappointed with his 25 homers and 120 walks in 152 pro games. But he has to improve on his .229 batting average and 28 percent strikeout rate while getting better behind the plate.

Keep an eye on: Daulton Varsho, D-backs
The son of former big leaguer Gary Varsho and the highest pick ever out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (second round last June), Daulton is a very athletic catcher with plus speed and offensive upside. He batted .311/.368/.534 in his pro debut, leading the Class A Short-Season Northwest League in slugging, OPS (.902) and extra-base hits (26).

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Yankees' bullpen could be best of all time

MLB.com @mike_petriello

The 2017 Yankees relievers were elite, by any metric you care to use. They had the third-lowest ERA (3.34); the lowest average against (.204); the highest strikeout rate (29.1 percent); the most Wins Above Replacement (9.2). They were good. They were so, so good.

Now realize they could possibly be better in 2018. Then, think about the fact that if they were, it might put them in the conversation for "the best bullpen of all time," an extremely unofficial title that's nonetheless fun to think about.

The 2017 Yankees relievers were elite, by any metric you care to use. They had the third-lowest ERA (3.34); the lowest average against (.204); the highest strikeout rate (29.1 percent); the most Wins Above Replacement (9.2). They were good. They were so, so good.

Now realize they could possibly be better in 2018. Then, think about the fact that if they were, it might put them in the conversation for "the best bullpen of all time," an extremely unofficial title that's nonetheless fun to think about.

How could those things happen? And what does "best bullpen" even mean? Let's dig in.

How to make a great bullpen even better

Part of the difficulty in evaluating a bullpen is that the members of that bullpen cycle through on a seemingly endless basis, with promotions, demotions and trips to the disabled list creating a different group nearly daily. There's not a constant group all year long; even the Yankees had 18 pitchers enter in relief at some point.

A good way to illustrate how much turnover can happen is to remind you who was actually in New York's bullpen on Opening Day 2017.

LHP -- Aroldis Chapman, Chasen Shreve, Tommy Layne
RHP -- Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder

Who don't you see there? You don't see Chad Green, who didn't join the bullpen full-time until May and ended up becoming one of baseball's breakout stars. You don't see David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, acquired from the White Sox along with Todd Frazier in July. Those three pitchers combined for 130 2/3 dominant innings with the Yanks, pitching to a 1.79 ERA along with 190 strikeouts.

Looking at Expected wOBA, the Statcast™ metric that combines quality of contact (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) along with amount of contact (in terms of strikeouts and walks), Green (8th), Kahnle (9th) and Robertson (11th) were three of the top dozen relievers in baseball in 2017, among those who faced 200 hitters. None of these guys were in the Opening Day bullpen.

What that means is that even with only partial seasons from three of the game's most dominant relievers, the Yankees' bullpen still reached those lofty statistical heights. For example, in April, New York's relievers who pitched the most innings were Warren and Mitchell. In May, it was Holder, Warren and Clippard. By September, the four relievers to pitch 10 or more innings were Robertson, Chapman, Green and Kahnle. The decent gave way to the elite.

The new trio took innings that had otherwise gone to Mitchell (5.79 ERA, now with San Diego) or Clippard (4.95 ERA, now a free agent) or Layne (7.62 ERA, now a free agent), and that's the point. The Yanks enter 2018 with far more talent atop the depth chart. If they started the season today, the bullpen could look something like this:

LHP -- Chapman, Shreve
RHP -- Betances, Robertson, Kahnle, Green, Warren, Giovanny Gallegos

That group, combined, put up a .258 Expected wOBA, a 2.63 ERA, and a 34.2 percent strikeout rate, in over 430 innings. Put another way, that's the same performance as Clayton Kershaw (.253 Expected wOBA), Stephen Strasburg (2.52 ERA) or Corey Kluber (34.1 percent strikeout rate), just in far more innings.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kahnle tosses two shutout innings in relief

Five of those eight Yankees arms were in the top 16 in strikeout rate, while Shreve "only" struck out 58 in 45 1/3 innings, limiting lefties to a mere .161/.235/.262 line. Warren, serving as a multi-inning man, pitched to a 2.35 ERA and a 3.02 FIP. He may be this team's seventh-best reliever.

The little-known Gallegos, for what it's worth, just led the entire Triple-A International League with 40.8 percent strikeout rate. Don't like him? Ben Heller, who allowed one earned run in 11 innings for the Yanks in 2017, was third, at 36.8 percent. Or what about Holder, who struck out 40 against just eight walks in 39 1/3 Major League innings?

That's not to suggest that the Yankees' arms are without risk; every team has risk. Chapman missed a few weeks with an arm injury, then slumped in August before returning to dominate in September (17 whiffs across 12 scoreless innings). Betances' late-season command issues essentially sidelined him in the postseason, and make him something of a question into 2018 -- as much as anyone who struck out 100 in 59 2/3 innings can be "a question." There's no guarantees here. Just tons of elite strikeout talent.

Video: Kahnle, Robertson, Chapman dazzle in relief

How do you rank a historic bullpen?

We might have undersold, at the top, how good the 2017 bullpen already was. The well-known stat FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) takes the three things a pitcher has the most control over (strikeouts, walks and home runs) and puts it on an ERA scale. So the Yanks' relievers, for example, tied for No. 1 in FIP in 2017 with a 3.12 mark.

By itself, 3.12 doesn't rank highly in history, but you have to compare how that ranks against the league average for that season. In the same way that hitting 20 homers in 1968 was far more impressive than having done so in 2017, we have to add context for the way the game was played at the time. If we do that, to see how far above league average for that season their score was, we can see that what the Yankees just did stands out among history.

Best relief FIP compared to MLB average, 1920-2017

32 points above average -- 2003 Dodgers
32 points above average -- 1964 Reds
27 points above average -- 2017 Indians
26 points above average -- 2017 Yankees

(Yes, this could be an article about the 2017 Indians, too. But it's not -- and while the Yanks have full seasons of pitchers they added last year, Cleveland lost reliable Bryan Shaw to Colorado.)

Our group of eight in the assumed Opening Day bullpen, for what it's worth, would have been 40 points better than average in 2017 if you combine their 2017 MLB stats. If we add in Heller and Holder to get to a group that's 10 deep, it's still 38 points better than average. Even this ranking is missing an important factor, which is innings. Those 1964 Reds threw just 322 1/3 relief innings, while the 2017 Yankees threw 538 1/3. Being tied is hardly as impressive when you're throwing less than 60 percent of the number of innings. (And if you've forgotten about the 2003 Dodgers, that was the team that featured National League Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne closing games with a 337 ERA+.)

Ultimately, with the changing way that relievers are used, there's not an ideal way to compare present-day bullpens to those of years past. The sheer number and usage of relievers barely resembles the game of decades ago. That's to say there's no "right answer" as to what the best bullpen of all time could even be, which is fine: It's more fun to argue than to know.

What we do know for sure, however, is that the Yanks' bullpen was great last year. We know that they look even better in 2018, projected to be the best group in baseball. And if everything goes right, they might just be the best group we've ever seen. As far as we know, anyway.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.

 

New York Yankees, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Giovanny Gallegos, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren

'Respect the ranks': Yadi responds to Contreras

Cardinals' veteran catcher posts photo of All-Star trio from 2016
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina appears to be taking exception to recent comments from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras about how he plans to be a better backstop than perennial All-Stars Molina and Buster Posey.

"In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time -- like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey," Contreras told the Chicago Sun-Times at the Cubs Convention over the weekend. "I used to watch a lot of those guys, but now I'm watching myself because I know that I'm going to be better than them. That's my plan. That's my [mindset]."

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina appears to be taking exception to recent comments from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras about how he plans to be a better backstop than perennial All-Stars Molina and Buster Posey.

"In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time -- like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey," Contreras told the Chicago Sun-Times at the Cubs Convention over the weekend. "I used to watch a lot of those guys, but now I'm watching myself because I know that I'm going to be better than them. That's my plan. That's my [mindset]."

That sentiment made it back to Molina, who reacted on Instagram by posting a photo of himself alongside Posey and Salvador Perez from the 2016 All-Star Game. Below it, he wrote: "Respeten los rangos NOVATOS!! aqui con los q si han probao que son los duros!!"

That loosely translates to "respect the ranks" of those who have already proven themselves.

A few hours later, Contreras sent out a series of three tweets in which to clarify what he believed to be a misinterpretation of his original comments.

"Many people have misinterpreted what was said during a recent interview," Contreras said. "I see no wrong in taking the best players as personal goals and exceedance [sic]. What player doesn't want to be the best at their position? I know I am lacking in many years of experience and only time will tell.

"In my mind I aim to be the best and like I mentioned during the interview, I have enormous respect for these players," he said. "I honor and learn so much very [sic] time I play against Molina and Posey. I simply used them as examples of achievement in my professional career.

"To use the best players as a model or standard and want to exceed them, I don't believe is any disrespect simply motivation and inspiration. Have a great night. God bless you all."

Tweet from @WContreras40: Many people have misinterpreted what was said during a recent interview, I see no wrong in taking the best players as personal goals and exceedance. What player doesn���t want to be the best at their position? I know I am lacking many years of experience and only time will tell.

This is not the first time that Molina has used Instagram to express his displeasure. Last summer, he took to the social media site to correct manager Mike Matheny's assertion that Molina was tired.

Video: Molina plans to retire after three-year deal is up

Contreras, who made his Major League debut in 2016, should have at least three more years to go head-to-head in the National League Central against Molina -- who plans to retire after the 2020 season. Contreras has yet to make an All-Star roster, while Molina has been on eight in his 14-year career.

The Cubs and Cardinals will meet for the first time this season on April 16 at Wrigley Field.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina

MLB Buzz: Yelich to ATL? Marlins want Acuna

MLB.com

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

Marlins want Acuna in a Yelich deal with Braves
Christian Yelich's name has been in the trade rumor mill for much of the offseason, and the buzz has picked up again after the center fielder's agent said Tuesday that Yelich hopes to be traded before Spring Training starts. According to MLB Network insider Peter Gammons, any deal would have to bring a "huge return" for Miami.

Citing conversations with teams that have called the Marlins about Yelich, Gammons said Wednesday on MLB Tonight that the Marlins won't move the 26-year-old unless they get back "star-level talent." As one example, Gammons said Miami has told the Braves that uber-prospect Ronald Acuna would have to be included in any trade for Yelich.

"The Marlins told the Braves, 'Look, we'll do a three- or four- or five-for-one, but Ronald Acuna has to be in it or we don't go even to the second player,'" Gammons said on MLB Network.

Acuna is one of baseball's very top prospects. He currently ranks as MLB's No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and could move up even further on that list in the upcoming 2018 rankings. The 20-year-old outfielder seems likely to be promoted to the big league club early next season.

Gammons said Acuna is a player the Braves won't trade, and the fact that the Marlins would tell the Braves that he would have to be the minimum headliner of any Yelich deal indicates that they're "shooting very high."

Following Miami's trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon to the Yankees, Cardinals and Mariners, respectively, Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto have been floated as the next players the team could potentially move as part of its rebuilding effort.

Gammons also mentioned Realmuto in the segment, saying that other teams' general managers think the Marlins might wait to trade Realmuto closer to the 2018 Trade Deadline.

Red Sox offer to Martinez reportedly $100 million
Negotiations between the Red Sox and free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez haven't yet culminated in a contract agreement, and his agent, Scott Boras, has refuted recent reports that Boston extended an offer of five years in the $100 million range.

Boras told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman the reports of the offer, which was said to be less than what Martinez was seeking, were "not accurate." Heyman reported last week that Martinez is looking for a six-year deal valued at $30 million per year.

Video: MLB Tonight: Red Sox offer Martinez five-year deal

The Red Sox have long been linked to Martinez since before he hit free agency, first as a speculative fit following his monster season and then after multiple reports this offseason indicated the two sides were talking. Boston has been seen as the favorite to land Martinez, though a snails-pace free agent market this winter has stalled potential agreements with nearly every high-profile free agent.

Heyman reported last week that Martinez is willing to hold out into Spring Training for a contract that he believes meets his market value, which indicates other clubs are also involved. Martinez was a remarkable catalyst for the D-backs last year in helping them reach their first postseason since 2011, and Arizona is reportedly still interested in bringing him back, per Heyman.

Video: J.D. willing to wait for contract of his liking

After he was acquired on July 18, Martinez hit 29 homers and 65 RBIs in just 62 games, trailing only National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in each category in that span. On the season, Martinez hit 45 homers despite playing in just 119 games, becoming the first player in MLB history to do so.

Martinez, who will be 31 in August, would reportedly prefer to play outfield, and Boston already has established Gold Glove Award winner Mookie Betts to go with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. Martinez's fit would likely be at designated hitter, which may give Arizona an edge, in addition to the fact that the club recently hired Martinez's personal hitting coach.

Castellanos on the trade block?
While the Tigers were ultimately able to avoid an arbitration hearing with Nicholas Castellanos, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit remains open to trading the rising slugger, citing multiple clubs that have engaged in discussions with the Tigers this offseason.

Video: Castrovince, Justice on Tigers, Castellanos' options

Castellanos, 25, agreed to a one-year, $6.05 million contract with the Tigers on Friday. Detroit's first-round Draft choice from 2010 is about to embark on his first full season in right field, but Fenech reports that the Tigers' uncertainty about his defensive ability could still lead to a trade before Opening Day. Castellanos has primarily manned third base during his first four full seasons in the Motor City, but he has rated below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in each of those campaigns. He played 21 games in right last season.

Castellanos' prowess at the plate is much less in doubt. He broke out for a career-high 26 home runs and 101 RBIs for the Tigers in 2017 while recording a league-adjusted 110 OPS+ (where 100 is average) and pacing the American League with 10 triples. He was even more productive in some respects in '16, finishing with a 120 OPS+ over 110 games. While Castellanos will be eligible for arbitration again next winter, he will not test the free-agent market until 2020. That means Castellanos, for the moment, represents a controllable, relatively cheap hitter coming into his own -- regardless of his defensive ability.

Tigers general manager Al Avila revealed at the Winter Meetings that the team approached Castellanos about a contract extension toward the end of last season, but that no progress has been made.

If Pirates aren't contending, J-Hay wants to be dealt
A day after Andrew McCutchen was traded to San Francisco, Josh Harrison effectively asked to be traded "if indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next" in a statement released Tuesday to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. Harrison, 30, is under contract for $10.25 million this year, with club options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and '20 ($11.5 million). More >

Giants still looking for OF upgrades
Fresh off acquiring Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates on Monday, the Giants are trying to add even more talent to their outfield, with the former National League Most Valuable Player being told that he'll play a corner spot with the team this season, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

San Francisco's main desire is to upgrade defensively in center field, and sources tell ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that the Giants rank Jarrod Dyson as their most coveted option behind Lorenzo Cain. The club is also interested in Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, according to Crasnick, but values Dyson's "speed, defensive metrics and stolen-base ability."

The Giants, after bringing in McCutchen via a trade with the Pirates, do not have the space under the luxury-tax threshold to sign Cain at his projected salary, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Morosi reported that the club is looking to add a "defense-first player" in center field "who will be less expensive than Cain."

Dyson, Jay and Maybin will certainly all be less expensive than the former Royals center fielder, and Dyson led that group with seven Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast™. Maybin was at plus-2 two while Jay was minus-3.

Dyson, 33, has stolen at least 25 bases in each of the past six seasons and would be a big boost to a Giants club that ranked 20th in the Majors with 76 steals last year. Jay has 51 steals in eight Major League seasons, but his .738 career on-base-plus-slugging percentage bests Dyson's .677 total.

Maybin owns a career .693 OPS and stole 33 bases during his time split between the Astros and Angels last season.

Brewers remain interested in Arrieta, Moustakas
The Brewers "continue to be in" on free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta and third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM.

The Brewers have been known to be seeking starting pitching in free agency, and Arrieta would certainly be a boost to Milwaukee's rotation, especially with Jimmy Nelson's 2018 status unclear. Nelson, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in September, went 12-6 with a team-best 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings last season.

It was reported earlier in January that the Cubs and Cardinals were the two clubs most interested in Arrieta's services, but the Brewers' desire to sign the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner could create a potential bidding war between the NL Central rivals.

Arrieta, 31, went 64-29 with a 2.67 ERA in 119 starts for the Cubs over the past four seasons.

According to Bowden, the Brewers' interest in Moustakas comes with the idea that the club "could trade Travis Shaw" to the Yankees, Braves or Mets.

Milwaukee does not necessarily have a need at third base with the incumbent Shaw being younger and cheaper than Moustakas. The 27-year-old Shaw, under team control through 2022, also excelled for the Brewers last season, batting .273/.349/.513 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs in 144 games.

 

Sabathia: Yanks back to status of 'hated team'

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The Yankees enjoyed more goodwill than usual last season thanks to their success with young talent like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, but they aren't expecting the same in 2018.

CC Sabathia, fresh off signing a one-year, $10 million deal to return to The Bronx, joined MLB Network's Hot Stove on Thursday and made clear what reception the Yanks anticipate now that they've added Giancarlo Stanton.

NEW YORK -- The Yankees enjoyed more goodwill than usual last season thanks to their success with young talent like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, but they aren't expecting the same in 2018.

CC Sabathia, fresh off signing a one-year, $10 million deal to return to The Bronx, joined MLB Network's Hot Stove on Thursday and made clear what reception the Yanks anticipate now that they've added Giancarlo Stanton.

"Last year, we were the team that everybody loved, that feel-good story," Sabathia said. "But getting Giancarlo just brings us back to being that hated team. That's what we like. We want to go out there, put the best team on the field and crush everybody every game."

With a lineup led by Stanton, Judge and Sanchez, a solid rotation and what might be the best bullpen in baseball, Sabathia and the Yankees might get their wish.

During his brief foray into free agency, Sabathia was reported to have spoken with the Angels and Blue Jays. He revealed on Thursday that he also talked with the Brewers, for whom he pitched in 2008, but Sabathia's first choice was to return to the Yankees.

"I'm a New Yorker now. This is my home," Sabathia said. "I wanted to try to end my career here with the Yankees and hopefully I get a chance to do that."

He and his family recently returned from a three-week trip to South Africa, during which they took a five-day safari and Sabathia was submerged in a shark tank.

"[The offseasons] get shorter every year, but I like the chance to get time off and hang out with my family," Sabathia said. "[I] kind of hang out, work out and get my body right to get ready for the season."

Yankees pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 13, and Sabathia is looking forward to playing under new manager Aaron Boone, with whom he was a teammate for two seasons with the Indians in 2005-06. Sabathia also played with Josh Bard, who is now the Yankees' bench coach.

"I'm excited for what's to come," Sabathia said. "I think he's going to be a great manager for us."

Sabathia, 37, went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA last season, recording 120 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings. His 2,846 strikeouts are the most ever by an American League left-hander and third all-time among southpaws, trailing only Randy Johnson (4,875) and Steve Carlton (4,136).

"It's something that I never really think about," Sabathia said. "I know people kind of look at me crazy when I say that, but I've never played for that. I've always just tried to go out and do my best and try to get wins for the team. I just want to go out, have a good season and hopefully end up for a parade at the end of the year."

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

 

New York Yankees, CC Sabathia

Lynn drawing interest from at least 4 teams

Twins, Angels, O's, Brewers reportedly in on veteran right-hander
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

There may not be a more consistent pitcher in baseball, when healthy, than Lance Lynn. So what is the market for the 30-year-old free agent, who proved to be his durable self after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2017?

There is "a healthy market" for Lynn, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, that includes at least four teams: the Twins, Angels, Orioles and Brewers.

There may not be a more consistent pitcher in baseball, when healthy, than Lance Lynn. So what is the market for the 30-year-old free agent, who proved to be his durable self after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2017?

There is "a healthy market" for Lynn, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, that includes at least four teams: the Twins, Angels, Orioles and Brewers.

• Hot Stove Tracker

When a team will pounce on Lynn, who spent his first six seasons with the Cardinals, remains unclear. Morosi reported that while there is interest in Lynn, the teams may balk until they receive clarity on their first choices in the starting-pitcher market, namely free agents Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish.

Both of those righties certainly provide more upside than Lynn. But there is a case to be made that Lynn will be more reliable over the long term. His 2016 season aside, Lynn has thrown at least 175 innings over each of his past five seasons. Neither Darvish nor Arrieta can come close to saying that.

And Lynn has been productive, going 72-47 with a career ERA of 3.38. He's posted a single-season ERA as low as 2.74 and never higher than 3.97.

The teams interested in Lynn aren't a surprise. The Twins are rumored to be in on nearly every free-agent starter as they look to return to the postseason in back-to-back seasons. The Brewers also see themselves rising into a window of contention, and they could use another arm. The Angels are in a similar boat. And the Orioles have more starting-pitching holes to fill than most.

"I'm hearing a number of teams are, in fact, pursuing him," Morosi reports. "But I do get a sense teams may be waiting on their first choices."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

 

Lance Lynn

Worst to first? It happens more than you think

2017 last-place teams will look to join 13 previous bounce-back division champs
MLB.com @philgrogers

Need a warm thought on a cold day?

One of the great things about baseball is history almost never repeats itself. You can finish last one season and win a division title the next.

Need a warm thought on a cold day?

One of the great things about baseball is history almost never repeats itself. You can finish last one season and win a division title the next.

That's happened 13 times since 1969, when Major League Baseball went to divisional play. The Red Sox did it in the American League East only two seasons ago, so it's clearly still part of the landscape. Maybe we can make it 14 next season.

And while we're dreaming, why not dream big? After the Red Sox went from last to first in 2013, they went on to finish the job, beating the Cardinals in the World Series. Five other last-to-first teams have reached the Series since 1969, most notably when Jack Morris and Kirby Puckett carried the '91 Twins to an out-of-nowhere championship.

You don't have to win a division title to celebrate, either. Coming close immediately after a dreadful season can bring its own delights.

Video: Must C Clinch: Twins clinch second AL Wild Card spot

The Twins went 59-103 and finished last in the AL Central in 2016, then jumped directly into the postseason as an AL Wild Card team last year. They were the fifth team to win a Wild Card after a last-place finish the season before.

As easy as it can be to pencil in teams like the Dodgers and Nationals to defend their titles, there could be magic to be made this year. The Giants are certainly thinking they can do something special, as they showed by adding Andrew McCutchen in his walk year.

It would be awfully fun to see Bruce Bochy back in the postseason with Madison Bumgarner healthy and dealing like he did in 2014. There's a long way between here and there, sure, but that distance can be covered in a hurry once the standings start changing daily.

In case you're wondering, here are the biggest year-over-year improvements in win totals:
1. 1903 N.Y. Giants: +36 (48 to 84 wins)
2. 1999 D-backs: +35 (65 to 100)
3. 1962 Phillies: +34 (47 to 81)
4. (tie) 1936 Boston Braves/Bees: +33 (38 to 71)
4. (tie) '46 Red Sox: +33 (71 to 104)
4. (tie) '89 Orioles: +33 (54 to 87)

Here's a look at the last-place teams in MLB's six divisions from a year ago:

NL West: Giants (64-98 in 2017)
If it could go wrong last season, it did. The Giants won 23 fewer games than in 2016, when they fell in a dramatic NL Division Series against the Cubs after winning the NL Wild Card Game. Look for an almost automatic trampoline effect if Bumgarner and Buster Posey avoid injury.

Video: McCutchen, Longoria will help defense and lineup

Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans filled gaping holes by trading for third baseman Evan Longoria and McCutchen, who will move from center field to right field. That switch allows Hunter Pence to move to left, where he joins Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun, Marcell Ozuna and Yoenis Cespedes among the NL elite.

San Francisco is still shopping for a center fielder who excels at chasing down fly balls. Free agents Jarrod Dyson and Jon Jay (probably not Lorenzo Cain) are among the options, as is a possible trade. It makes sense that the Giants would pursue Jackie Bradley Jr. if the Red Sox sign J.D. Martinez, but it's not clear if they have the pieces to add Bradley or someone like Billy Hamilton.

NL East: Phillies (66-96 in 2017)
The Phillies haven't had a winning season since their five-year run of NL East titles ended in 2011, but ownership and the front office have signaled its time to kick it into gear. They changed managers, moving Pete Mackanin upstairs and rolling the dice on the out-of-the-box choice, Gabe Kapler -- a risky move, sort of like the Astros giving A.J. Hinch a second chance.

Video: Santana on being a part of a young Phillies team

Only the Padres were younger than the Phils last season, and the experience gained by Aaron Nola and the other young starters could be a key for a step up. But the biggest addition is free-agent Carlos Santana. He'll play first base, shifting small-sample-size phenom Rhys Hoskins to left field. It's fair to say he'll be an All-Star there if he homers once every 9.4 at-bats, as he did in his 50-game debut (pretty sure Philadelphia would take a 1/15 ratio, though).

Pat Neshek returns on a two-year deal as the primary setup man for Hector Neris, and Tommy Hunter adds bullpen depth. Something to watch closely is how J.P. Crawford handles shortstop with Freddy Galvis being traded to the Padres. Galvis played all 162 games last season.

NL Central: Reds (68-94 in 2017)
Jared Hughes, the owner of one of the most dependable bullpen arms, is making the rounds of the NL Central. He signed a two-year deal with Cincinnati after stints with the Pirates and Brewers. He's a good addition to a bullpen that has power arms at the end (Raisel Iglesias , Wandy Peralta and Michael Lorenzen. The Reds are turning shortstop over to Jose Peraza and expect third baseman Nick Senzel, the second overall pick in 2016, to come fast, giving them redundancy alongside Eugenio Suarez.

AL Central: Tigers (64-98 in 2017)
Still in the subtraction phase of the rebuilding project that started with the trades of Justin Verlander and Justin Upton, the Tigers dealt Ian Kinsler to the Angels. They signed Leonys Martin to chase down balls in center field for priority arms Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd. Al Avila added some pitching depth by signing Mike Fiers and Ryan Carpenter, a 27-year-old lefty who could move to the bullpen if he doesn't win the fifth starter's job.

AL West: A's (75-87 in 2017)
There are so many good young hitters in this system that Ryon Healy was declared expendable. He was traded to the Mariners to make it clear that Matt Chapman is the third baseman and Matt Olson the first baseman. The rotation has major upside with Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman ready to break out.

Video: Manaea becoming a stable presence in the A's rotation

Oakland is looking for a bounce-back season from Stanford product Stephen Piscotty, whom the Cardinals dealt after adding Ozuna. Yusmeiro Petit, who is signed to a two-year deal, and Emilio Pagan, who was acquired in the Healy trade, add depth to a bullpen that needed help.

AL East: Orioles (75-87 in 2017)
It's looking like there was no fire to go along with the Manny Machado smoke, and otherwise it's been a very quiet offseason in Baltimore. Dan Duquette hasn't addressed the rotation void behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. One thing he has done is accumulate intriguing arms to be sorted out in Spring Training: Michael Kelly, Nestor Cortes, Jose Mesa, Pedro Araujo and Konner Wade. Outfielder Jaycob Brugman, who made his debut with the A's last year, was added as a depth option in the outfield.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

What are possible landing spots for Harrison?

Two-time All-Star requested trade after Bucs dealt Cole, McCutchen
MLB.com

Lots of players have no-trade clauses. None, as far as we know, have must-trade provisions in their contracts.

Still, every once in awhile, a player will conclude that on the whole, he'd rather be, well, somewhere other than where he is. Already this offseason, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto of the Marlins have suggested they might be happier elsewhere in the wake of the team trading Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals and Dee Gordon to the Mariners.

Lots of players have no-trade clauses. None, as far as we know, have must-trade provisions in their contracts.

Still, every once in awhile, a player will conclude that on the whole, he'd rather be, well, somewhere other than where he is. Already this offseason, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto of the Marlins have suggested they might be happier elsewhere in the wake of the team trading Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals and Dee Gordon to the Mariners.

The latest to float that particular trial balloon is Pirates infielder Josh Harrison. After center fielder Andrew McCutchen was traded to the Giants and right-hander Gerrit Cole to the Astros over the past week, Harrison suggested through The Athletic website that "perhaps it would be better for all involved" that he also be moved.

To be clear, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has denied the Bucs are in a rebuilding mode. And players have no formal mechanism to force a trade.

Video: Huntington addresses Harrison's trade comments

On the other hand, teams are often reluctant to have a guy in the clubhouse who has made it clear he'd prefer not to be there. And Harrison, a two-time All-Star, has some value. So for the sake of discussion, let's assume that Huntington will now pick up the phone and investigate whether there's a deal to be made that would satisfy all concerned.

First, the particulars. Harrison is 30 years old. He started 79 games at second last season, 37 at third and nine in the outfield. He had a .771 OPS with a career-high16 homers, and he's considered an above-average defender. He'll make $10.25 million this season with two club options, for $10.5 million in 2019 (or a $1 million buyout) and $11.5 million in 2020 (or a $500,000 buyout).

Given all that, what teams might be interested if the Pirates did decide to shop him?

The most logical landing spot would seem to be the Mets, who currently have Gavin Cecchini as their likely starting second baseman. The 24-year-old has just 36 games of big league experience.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson had been looking into acquiring a veteran second baseman even before Harrison's trade request. New York had reportedly asked about Ian Kinsler before the Tigers traded him to the Angels, and the Mets are also rumored to have been in talks with the Indians about Jason Kipnis.

So Harrison makes sense. Alderson, however, has said he'd lean toward signing a free agent rather than giving up prospects, and there are several options still available on the market, including Todd Frazier, Neil Walker, Eduardo Nunez and Brandon Phillips. The scuttlebutt is that promising outfielder Brandon Nimmo would have to be part of any deal for Harrison.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the Yankees are also thinking about adding some experience to an infield that has rookie Miguel Andujar penciled in at third and 25-year-old Ronald Torreyes at second, with rookie Gleyber Torres also in the mix. The Yankees have had a lot of success with young players like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez the past couple seasons, but general manager Brian Cashman might feel more comfortable with a veteran option.

Walker left the Brewers, who finished a strong second in the National League Central last season, as a free agent. That leaves Eric Sogard and Jonathan Villar, but there has been speculation that the Crew might kick the tires on Harrison.

There don't appear to be other teams looking for help at second base, but the fact that Harrison can also play third could expand the market.

The White Sox and Braves might consider adding an established veteran at the hot corner. If the Royals don't end up re-signing Mike Moustakas, Kansas City could be an option. And the Orioles have had some talks about trading Manny Machado before he becomes a free agent; if something comes together, that could create an opening in Baltimore.

And, of course, there's always the possibility that Harrison might stay right where he is.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Harrison

Bucs, Rivero complete 4-year contract

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole are gone, but Felipe Rivero should be sticking around a while.

The Pirates and Rivero completed a four-year deal with club options for 2022-23, the club announced on Thursday. News of the agreement was first reported on Monday.

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole are gone, but Felipe Rivero should be sticking around a while.

The Pirates and Rivero completed a four-year deal with club options for 2022-23, the club announced on Thursday. News of the agreement was first reported on Monday.

"We are pleased to make this long-term commitment to Felipe Rivero and are humbled that he has made a long-term commitment to the Pirates organization and our community," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Felipe quickly established himself as one of the best young relief pitchers in Major League Baseball last season and we look forward to working with him to help us win games for potentially the next six seasons."

The contract is worth a guaranteed $22 million with a $2 million signing bonus, according to an industry source. Rivero was a Super Two player, so the deal covers all four of his arbitration years and the options would extend into his first two free-agent years.

Rivero will earn $2.5 million in 2018, $4 million in '19: $5.25 million in '20 and $7.25 million in '21. Each of the club options are worth $10 million, with a $1 million buyout for '22 and a $500,000 buyout for '23.

It could prove to be a massive bargain for the Pirates, particularly if Rivero continues what he started during his first full year in Pittsburgh last season. The flame-throwing left-hander posted a 1.67 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings, emerging as one of the game's most dominant late-inning arms and taking over as the closer in June.

Video: PIT@CIN: Rivero strikes out Duvall and gets the save

The news broke late Monday afternoon, right around the time the Pirates were finalizing the trade that sent McCutchen to the Giants for reliever Kyle Crick and outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds. 

The Bucs acquired Rivero and hard-throwing lefty prospect Taylor Hearn in July 2016 in exchange for former closer Mark Melancon, who will now be McCutchen's teammate in San Francisco. Rivero was a revelation in his first half-season with the Pirates, grew into the closer's role and quickly expressed a desire to remain in Pittsburgh.

"I want to stay here for a little bit. It's a good city to stay," Rivero said during PiratesFest in December. "I feel comfortable being here, so I want to be here a couple of years."

While Rivero will receive financial certainty, the Pirates can build around one of their best players on an affordable deal -- or, if they want to accelerate their "retooling" process, turn him into a premium trade chip. Late-inning relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, among others, have yielded significant hauls of prospects in recent years.

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

 

Pittsburgh Pirates, Felipe Rivero

The Yankees Triple-A team's promotional schedule features a judge Aaron Judge bobblehead

Earlier this week, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders -- the Triple-A affiliate of the Yankees -- unveiled its 2018 promotional schedule. In addition to the standard dollar dog days and fireworks displays, the Railriders announced a series of bobbleheads honoring some of the team's finest alumni.

Mets sign A-Gon to one-year deal

Veteran first baseman (back injury) played in just 71 games in '17
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- The Mets may still consider Dominic Smith their first baseman of the future, but he is no longer their first baseman of the present.

The team on Thursday finalized a deal to assume the last year of Adrian Gonzalez's contract, with plans to give him significant playing time. Though Gonzalez is due to make $22.4 million next season, the Mets will be responsible for just the league minimum salary of $545,000. His previous employers, the Braves and Dodgers, will pick up the balance.

NEW YORK -- The Mets may still consider Dominic Smith their first baseman of the future, but he is no longer their first baseman of the present.

The team on Thursday finalized a deal to assume the last year of Adrian Gonzalez's contract, with plans to give him significant playing time. Though Gonzalez is due to make $22.4 million next season, the Mets will be responsible for just the league minimum salary of $545,000. His previous employers, the Braves and Dodgers, will pick up the balance.

• Hot Stove Tracker

A five-time All-Star, Gonzalez has finished in the top 10 in MVP Award voting three times, leading the American League with 213 hits in 2011 with the Red Sox. As recently as '16, Gonzalez hit .285 with 18 homers, playing in at least 156 games for the 11th straight season. But he struggled through a back injury last year, batting just .242 with three home runs and a .642 OPS in 71 games. Entering his age-36 season, it is reasonable to wonder how much production Gonzalez can give the Mets.

Questions also loom regarding Gonzalez's leadership abilities after he did not attend all of the Dodgers' World Series games in October. The Mets hope Gonzalez can be a positive presence in their clubhouse -- particularly during Spring Training, when they expect him to be a mentor for Smith.

With Gonzalez in the fold, Smith could be ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season, though it's also still possible he can win the first-base job outright with a strong spring. Both players are left-handed hitters, limiting the opportunities for them to split playing time.

Video: Dominic Smith makes impact with Mets in 2017

As a rookie, Smith hit .198 with nine home runs in 49 games, earning a dash of criticism about his conditioning from general manager Sandy Alderson. The GM later backed off those comments, but Smith nonetheless took them and others to heart; as of mid-December, he had dropped 12 pounds with an offseason focus on exercise and nutrition.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

 

New York Mets, Adrian Gonzalez

Alert gives Hamels brief scare on Hawaii trip

MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

DALLAS -- Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels was expecting a relaxing vacation with his family in Hawaii last weekend. But he certainly wasn't expecting to deal with a ballistic missile scare.

That's what happened while Hamels was sleeping in his hotel room on Saturday morning. Everybody in Hawaii received the warning on their cell phone that a ballistic missile was headed their way.

DALLAS -- Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels was expecting a relaxing vacation with his family in Hawaii last weekend. But he certainly wasn't expecting to deal with a ballistic missile scare.

That's what happened while Hamels was sleeping in his hotel room on Saturday morning. Everybody in Hawaii received the warning on their cell phone that a ballistic missile was headed their way.

"That's what woke me up, and I was like, 'What?' " Hamels said. "That's the whole thing -- there's nothing you can do about it. After about 20 minutes, we were like, 'Hmm.'"

Hamels and his wife, Heidi, stayed in their room and did not tell their children. Their resort was not in Honolulu, and Hamels figured they were safe. He thought if there really was a missile, it would be headed there.

That didn't make it any easier.

"We would've been dead in three seconds, so I'm like, after 20 minutes ... that's the whole thing," Hamels said. "I can't do anything about it. That was one of the strangest things I've ever seen."

The missile scare lasted 38 minutes before the emergency alert system confirmed it was a false alarm. The Hamels family went back to enjoying their annual vacation.

Tweet from @ColeHamels: What is a good 5K time? First official one in Maui today with the family! Heidi is the veteran here. pic.twitter.com/SPx4peqF9e

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

 

Texas Rangers, Cole Hamels

Arb wire: Figures filed for unsigned players

Deadline passes for clubs to exchange terms with arbitration-eligibles
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB