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Bryant takes jab at playing in St. Louis

MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Cubs star Kris Bryant stoked one of baseball's longest-running rivalries on Friday with comments about the rival Cardinals' home city.

Bryant had a few critical words to say about St. Louis during a comedy-show style conversation with former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster at the 34th annual Cubs Convention in Chicago. The subject was brought up when Bryant mentioned that he had seen rapper Nelly -- a noted Cardinals fan -- at a Florida Georgia Line concert in December in his hometown of Las Vegas. Mention of the Cubs' biggest rival elicited some boos from the live audience, and Bryant obliged the crowd with some good-natured ribbing.

Cubs star Kris Bryant stoked one of baseball's longest-running rivalries on Friday with comments about the rival Cardinals' home city.

Bryant had a few critical words to say about St. Louis during a comedy-show style conversation with former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster at the 34th annual Cubs Convention in Chicago. The subject was brought up when Bryant mentioned that he had seen rapper Nelly -- a noted Cardinals fan -- at a Florida Georgia Line concert in December in his hometown of Las Vegas. Mention of the Cubs' biggest rival elicited some boos from the live audience, and Bryant obliged the crowd with some good-natured ribbing.

Tweet from @Cubs_Live: Kris Bryant explaining how playing in St. Louis is terrible. 😂 pic.twitter.com/qYM1mZJfZZ

"[Nelly] was trying to work the magic on Bryce [Harper]," Bryant said of his longtime friend and superstar free agent, before playfully adding, "Who would want to play in St. Louis? It's so boring. I always get asked, 'Where do you like to play, where do you not like to play?' And St. Louis is a place I don't like to play."

That comment drew a loud cheer from the Chicago faithful, and Dempster followed suit.

"I remember when I was getting traded," said Dempster, "and they asked me, 'Hey, how about St. Louis?' I said, 'Zero chance, pal. No way.' I wouldn't even go there as a free agent. Not happening."

"It's rough," Bryant concluded.

Reliever John Brebbia shot back with a playful barb Saturday, telling Bryant to "cry me a river, loser," during an appearance at the Cardinals' Caravan celebration. Catcher Yadier Molina, the club's emotional leader, fired back at Bryant with an Instagram post that included a screenshot of Bryant's interview with Dempster.

"All stars, elite players and leaders of their teams do not speak bad about any city," Molina wrote. "There should be respect, and you should play and compete with respect. Only stupid players and losers make comments like the ones made by Bryant and Dempster."

Several of Molina's teammates echoed his sentiments in comments on his Instagram post. Third baseman Matt Carpenter replied with a comment, while left fielder Marcell Ozuna issued a poetic warning to the Cubs.

"From outside they speak and talk like tiger," wrote Ozuna, "but at the end they [sic] gonna be like little cat."

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler knows this rivalry as well as anyone, having played on both sides. He said this weekend's back-and-forth should take Cubs-Cardinals matchups up just one more notch this season.

"I think it's good for the rivalry," said Fowler. "These are going to be some fun games. I'm looking forward to the Cardinals fans coming out and showing up."

While Bryant's comments weren't all that malicious, they could bring even more intrigue to what should be a competitive race atop the National League Central between the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers. Bryant has largely struggled at Busch Stadium to this point of his career, hitting .228 with a .689 OPS over 30 games and 140 plate appearances. The Cubs' first trip to St. Louis begins May 31 with a three-game weekend set in the Gateway City.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant

At least two mystery teams in Machado race

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.

At least two mystery teams in Machado race
Jan. 19: Just when it seemed like the Phillies and White Sox were the only two teams left in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, at least two more undisclosed clubs have emerged, Major League sources told Andy Martino of SNY.tv.

Machado has personally met with one of the unidentified teams in recent days, and MLB Network insider Jon Heyman has heard that said team has the high bid for the 26-year-old.

Additionally, Martino reports that the Yankees are maintaining contact with Machado's camp, though he notes that New York remains unlikely to sign him.

The Braves have checked in as well, but Martino writes that they "are not believed to be serious suitors."

In comments made to Hector Gomez of Z101, a Dominican Republic radio station, Machado's father, Manuel, alluded to a potential mystery suitor for his son, saying the team people are overlooking would be the one to sign the superstar free agent. The elder Machado also said that the Dodgers were one of the teams that have made his son an offer, but that was quickly disputed by Heyman.

Here are the tweets from Gomez, translated from Spanish to English.

Tweet from @hgomez27: Manuel Machado, Manny���s Father:���Manny has received offers from different teams: Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, now there���s a lot of interest from the White Sox.���#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes pic.twitter.com/2QoiZEy5zl

Tweet from @hgomez27: Manuel Machado, Manny���s Father:"I believe that the team you will probably less think about is the one that���s gonna sign Manny Machado."#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes

Manny seen wearing a Sox cap; does it mean anything?
Jan. 18: Is Manny Machado leaning toward signing with the White Sox? With the Phillies reportedly turning their focus to fellow 26-year-old superstar Bryce Harper after meeting with him in Las Vegas last week, and the Yankees signing yet another infielder in DJ LeMahieu, it appears Chicago may be the favorite to land Machado. The White Sox have reportedly made a seven-year, $175 million offer, though that has been disputed by Machado's agent, Dan Lozano.

While it may be a clue, or may be nothing at all, Machado was seen wearing a White Sox cap while taking batting practice with brother-in-law and White Sox first baseman Yonder Alonso on Friday. The website 12up reports that this took place in Miami.

Tweet from @12upSport: Yeah this definitely looks like Manny Machado wearing a White Sox hat and trying to hide it pic.twitter.com/nvtQUyAqIt

Machado and Harper are the two premier free agents this offseason, a pair of superstar sluggers under 27 years old on the open market, which can be a rarity. Both are reportedly looking to break the record for largest contract in MLB history, currently held by Giancarlo Stanton, who inked a 13-year, $325 million pact with the Marlins in 2014.

Yankees dip into free-agent market again -- but not for Machado
Jan. 17: While the Yankees are believed to be out of the Manny Machado sweepstakes, a report that the White Sox had offered the infielder $175 million over seven years -- which was later disputed by Machado's agent, Dan Lozano -- led to renewed speculation that New York could re-enter the mix for the right price.

However, the Yankees' latest move makes it even more unlikely that they'll circle back to sign Machado, as they have reportedly agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract with right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino.

With Ottavino's $9 million average annual value tacked on, the Yankees project to be nearly $15 million over the luxury-tax threshold in 2019, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. New York can bump that down a bit by trading Sonny Gray and his $7.5 million salary, but signing Machado for $25 million or more annually could put New York more than $30 million over the threshold.

In that case, the Yankees would need to pay a 20 percent tax on all overages plus a 12 percent surtax for exceeding the threshold by $20 million to $40 million, per the Competitive Balance Tax rules.

Due to the steeper penalties levied against teams that exceed the threshold by more than $40 million, signing Machado may also inhibit the Yankees' ability to make major in-season additions to the roster. Teams that finish more than $40 million over the luxury-tax line are subject to a 42.5 percent surtax and will have their highest selection in the next MLB Draft moved back 10 spots, unless it falls in the top six -- in which case the second-highest selection is moved back 10 spots.

Assessing which 'mystery teams' may actually be in on Harper and/or Machado
Jan. 17: As the offseason drags on and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned, the door will stay open for more teams to jump into the race, especially if there's a sense that the price to sign them may not be as high as many initially expected.

In an article for ESPN+ (subscription required) on Thursday, Buster Olney listed some of the so-called "mystery teams" that are drawing speculation from industry insiders and broke down each club's chances of signing one of this offseason's superstar free agents.

Olney is hearing the Astros, Giants and Braves being mentioned as potential suitors for Harper; the Yankees and Padres as possible contenders for Machado; and the Rangers, Twins and Cubs as three teams that could sign either player.

Olney thinks most of these clubs will continue to sit out of the proceedings, but he could see Houston entering the mix for Harper if the slugger is willing to accept a shorter-term deal with opt-outs. The Astros nearly acquired Harper before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline this past season, but the Nationals backed out. As Olney points out, the team is in win-now mode, especially with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole set to enter free agency next offseason.

"They've got the money, for sure," said one rival official.

The Astros seemingly have their starting outfield set after signing Michael Brantley, but Harper would represent a massive upgrade in right field over Josh Reddick, who recorded a .718 OPS in 2018.

Olney concedes that it might seem odd to have the Yankees as a potential mystery team for Machado, as they were one of three clubs -- along with the Phillies and White Sox -- to meet with him in December. But with Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu in the fold, New York is not aggressively pursuing Machado at this time. That could change, though, if Machado's asking price falls into a range that the Yankees are more comfortable with.

Phillies could eye Machado now, Trout later
Jan. 17: Imagine Mike Trout anchoring the outfield and Machado anchoring the infield. The Phillies are.

According to a report from Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci -- citing a source with knowledge of Philadelphia's offseason plans -- while the Phillies have enough money to sign both Machado and Bryce Harper, they'd actually like to sign just one. Why? So they can make a run at Trout, too, if he hits free agency after the 2020 season.

Either Machado or Harper, Verducci writes, "would invigorate what for years has been a sleeping giant among Major League franchises." And a pairing with Trout would be a once-in-a-generation combo.

And Verducci writes that while Trout, Harper and Andrew McCutchen would indeed be a dream outfield, "Philadelphia seems to carry a slight preference for Machado over Harper, if only because club officials met much earlier with Machado than they did with Harper."

Lozano releases statement on Machado reports
Jan. 16: Speculation about whether Manny Machado has been presented with a formal offer and for how much has become so rampant that it led to his agent, Dan Lozano, releasing a statement questioning some of the reports Wednesday afternoon.

Tweet from @Feinsand: Dan Lozano of MVP Sports Group, the agent for Manny Machado, released the following statement regarding recent reports: pic.twitter.com/MmKy9doaFz

Lozano's statement specifically mentioned multiple reports that emerged earlier Wednesday indicating the White Sox had offered Machado a seven-year deal for $175 million, well below the expected market price for the superstar infielder.

Video: After agent's statement, what is market on Machado?

Machado's early targets were topping either Alex Rodriguez's record 10-year, $275 million free-agent deal from 2007 or even Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million extension with the Marlins in '14. But the dwindling number of interested teams (Machado's current market may be down to just the Phillies and White Sox) means the demand from the club side might not be there to satisfy Machado's desire for a record deal. That said, Machado should still be able to net a larger deal than Chicago's reported offer when all is said and done.

Phils don't plan on signing both Machado and Harper
Jan. 15: Verducci's report echoes an earlier one from Matt Gelb of The Athletic, which suggests that while the Phillies won't sign both Machado and Harper, they're seen as a favorite to get one of the two -- it's just a matter of which one.

In a story detailing why the Phils feel confident in their slow-play approach with regard to Machado and Harper so far this winter, Gelb writes (subscription required): "League sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations: They will not sign both players."

That jives with what MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing, and Heyman also notes that Philly might have more in mind than landing Machado or Harper -- like some other high-end free agents, including lefty Dallas Keuchel, closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder A.J. Pollock.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Philly is in excellent position to sign one or the other of the free agent mega stars ��� Harper or Machado. Signing both though is said to remain pretty unlikely. But after they secure 1, Phils may take a closer look at other top free agents (ie Keuchel, Kimbrel, Pollock)

Back in late December, the Phillies hosted Machado at Citizens Bank Park, too, making them one of two teams -- the White Sox are the other -- known to have had face-to-face sit-downs with both stars this offseason. That could give them an advantage over some of the other suitors who have been linked to one player or the other, a list that potentially includes the Nationals, Yankees and Dodgers.

The Phils last week conducted a five-hour interview with Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas, sending a contingent that included owner John Middleton, general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler. The meeting went so well that the club turned its sights more centrally on Harper, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, after spending most of the offseason with Machado as their top priority. That makes things interesting, if Gelb's report is indeed true that the club will only attempt to sign one or the other. 

And yet, the waiting game continues for the Phillies, who don't seem to mind seeing how this plays out, because of the fact that either Harper or Machado could be a great fit for them -- and their financial fortitude to perhaps present the largest offers to either player.

"There is risk in dragging out this dance," Gelb writes, "but multiple league sources indicated the Phillies' risk of losing out on both stars is mitigated by the apparent lack of interested teams throughout Major League Baseball and the club's financial wherewithal."

Manny Machado

Yanks-Reds Gray talks reportedly progressing

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The Yankees entered the offseason with a candid assessment of Sonny Gray's performance, voicing belief that the hurler should project as a prime bounce-back candidate with a change of scenery, but that continuing to pitch his home games at Yankee Stadium would produce little benefit.

Thirteen weeks after general manager Brian Cashman said that he was "open-minded to a relocation" involving Gray, the Yankees may have found a trade match. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported on Saturday that discussions are advancing with the Reds, who are said to be considering dealing two prospects and a Draft pick for the 29-year-old right-hander. Neither club has commented on the reported deal.

NEW YORK -- The Yankees entered the offseason with a candid assessment of Sonny Gray's performance, voicing belief that the hurler should project as a prime bounce-back candidate with a change of scenery, but that continuing to pitch his home games at Yankee Stadium would produce little benefit.

Thirteen weeks after general manager Brian Cashman said that he was "open-minded to a relocation" involving Gray, the Yankees may have found a trade match. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported on Saturday that discussions are advancing with the Reds, who are said to be considering dealing two prospects and a Draft pick for the 29-year-old right-hander. Neither club has commented on the reported deal.

At least one-third of the league has expressed some level of interest in Gray, with the Braves, Brewers and Giants also thought to be on the periphery of a potential trade. Gray avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Yankees last week, and is eligible for free agency after 2019.

Gray appeared this week at an awards banquet in Nashville, Tenn., telling The Tennessean that while he has not spoken to Yankees brass since the end of the season, he is aware of the ongoing trade rumors.

"Ultimately, you want to play somewhere where you're wanted," Gray told the newspaper. "If it just so happens for me to go back to New York, then I'm going to continue to do everything I can to win games, not only for the team, but to better myself as a pitcher and go that route and try to continue to perform at a high level."

He would represent the third notable addition of the winter to Cincinnati's rotation. The Reds acquired Tanner Roark from the Nationals and Alex Wood from the Dodgers in separate December deals.

If the Reds do complete a trade for Gray, it would reunite the righty with Derek Johnson, Gray's former pitching coach at Vanderbilt. Johnson accepted that position with Cincinnati in November after previously working for the Brewers in the same capacity.

The Yankees had high hopes for Gray when they acquired him from the Athletics prior to the Trade Deadline in July 2017, but he has endured a bumpy 1 1/2 seasons in pinstripes, including being left off the roster for last year's American League Wild Card Game and the AL Division Series.

"I don't think it's a secret to anyone; it's kind of been an up-and-down experience for me," Gray said. "I've loved my time there. I love the guys. It was obviously a difficult season this past year, starting and then going to the bullpen, not pitching as much. But I mean, I won 11 games last year."

In his first full season with the Bombers, Gray was 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 30 games (23 starts), including 9-9 with a 5.26 ERA as a starter. Gray began the season in the rotation but was moved to the bullpen in early August, resurfacing to make a pair of spot starts late in the year.

Gray's .327 batting average on balls in play was the eighth-highest in the AL, while his 50 percent ground ball rate was the lowest of his career. Gray also permitted a career-high 22.9 percent line-drive percentage and 35.5 percent hard-contact rates, according to Fangraphs.

The Yanks halted trade discussions when CC Sabathia underwent an angioplasty in December. Sabathia was subsequently cleared to resume baseball activities and is expected to serve as the fifth starter behind Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ.

"I'm definitely getting matches for (Gray). There's been a lot of interest," Cashman said recently. "Nothing has moved my needle enough to find that sweet spot yet. We'll stay in it as long as we have to. Our intent is to move Sonny Gray and put him in a better position so he can succeed, but I'm not going to do it unless I get what I think is of value."

Gray owns a lifetime 3.66 ERA and posted a 3.17 mark on the road in 2018 (6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium), providing a reason for other teams to be optimistic that he can bounce back with a change of scenery.

"He's got a good makeup," Cashman said. "I just don't think this is the right spot for him. It's nothing against Sonny Gray. You live and you learn. There's examples of people elsewhere that I know eventually have turned it around. He's not making a lot of money. It's been a year and a half. I'm not going to be Sisyphus pushing the rock up a hill and having it roll back on top of me. It's not working."

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

New York Yankees, Sonny Gray

Dodgers showing interest in Pollock

MLB.com

A.J. Pollock has missed a considerable amount of time with injuries during his career, but he offers a well-rounded skill set and is sure to be a top free-agent target for clubs in need of outfield help this offseason.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the veteran center fielder.

A.J. Pollock has missed a considerable amount of time with injuries during his career, but he offers a well-rounded skill set and is sure to be a top free-agent target for clubs in need of outfield help this offseason.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the veteran center fielder.

Dodgers showing interest in Pollock
Jan. 19: Although the Dodgers still have a surplus of outfielders after trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds in December, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reports that there is "increasing chatter" about Los Angeles' interest in free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock.

Pollock would solve the Dodgers' need for a right-handed bat and give the team even more flexibility in the field, allowing Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger to be used in the infield more often, if needed.

As Rosenthal points out, the Dodgers would be a great fit for the injury-prone Pollock, as they could withstand any absences more easily than most clubs due to their depth.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: Wrote this in December: ���Pollock has not played more than 113 games in a season since 2015, but #Dodgers ��� due to their depth and versatility ��� could withstand any absences more easily than most clubs.��� Similar to the approach they take with Rich Hill. https://t.co/WXrLhMWpFS $ https://t.co/lQ43rtlbTI

In his lone All-Star season (2015), Pollock played 157 games and hit .315 with 20 homers, 39 steals and a 131 wRC+. But he has played no more than 113 games in any of the past three seasons and posted an overall 105 wRC+ in that span.

Is Pollock the best remaining free agent not named Harper or Machado?
Jan. 16: Despite the lack of center-field alternatives on the free-agent market, A.J. Pollock remains available with less than a month to go before pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training for most teams.

Earlier this offseason, Pollock was reportedly asking for a contract similar to the five-year, $80 million deal Lorenzo Cain received from the Brewers, but teams aren't in a rush to hand out that type of deal to a 31-year-old who has proven to be injury prone and owns an unremarkable 105 wRC+ since the beginning of 2016. It's likely his market is also being hindered by the fact that clubs will need to surrender a Draft pick to sign him after he rejected a qualifying offer from the D-backs.

That doesn't mean there aren't multiple teams that could benefit from Pollock's presence, though. In a column Wednesday, MLB.com's Richard Justice ranked Pollock first among the unsigned players who aren't named Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and listed four teams that could sign him, including the Dodgers. More >

D-backs add Flores, likely closing door on Pollock reunion
Jan. 16: When the D-backs traded Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals in early December, many assumed the club was starting a full rebuild, but that hasn't happened. Trade talk surrounding players such as Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, David Peralta and Nick Ahmed has quieted, and the team is hoping to contend for a postseason berth with its current core, according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com.

With that in mind, could the club look to re-sign A.J. Pollock if he is willing to accept a shorter-term deal? It's possible, but not likely, especially after Arizona reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with Wilmer Flores on Wednesday.

Gilbert wrote last week that he thought the D-backs would either sign a center fielder or add a second baseman, allowing Ketel Marte to move to center. The Flores signing seemingly makes it possible for the Marte position switch to happen, leaving Arizona without a spot for Pollock.

Tweet from @SteveGilbertMLB: The #Dbacks would use Flores at second which would allow them to move Ketel Marte to center. https://t.co/jFKUgJbnrb

Why Braves may be hesitant to gamble on Pollock
Jan. 15: Center fielder A.J. Pollock's market has been limited due to his lengthy injury history: Since 2016, he's only played in 237 games. Last season, he got off to a torrid start, slashing .293/.349/.620 with 11 home runs and nine steals through May 14. But that's when he fractured his thumb on a diving play, causing him to miss nearly two months. From the time he returned on July 2 through the end of the season, he hit just .236/.297/.407 with 10 homers in 73 games.

The former Gold Glove Award winner's skill set and potential are appealing, but the injury concerns surely are giving teams pause when considering him in free agency. Still, if he was amenable to a one-year deal, might the Braves fill their outfield need by signing Pollock? According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman in his most recent Inbox, it's a tough call.

"Let's just say if Pollock reaches a point where he'd be willing to accept the offer you've proposed (a one-year, $18 million to $20 million deal), the Braves would have the financial flexibility necessary to complete such a deal," Bowman writes. "But there is certainly plenty of reason to be concerned about the medical history of this outfielder, who fractured his right hand in 2014, fractured his elbow in '16, missed significant time with a groin strain in '17 and missed a portion of last year with a fractured left thumb.

"At least two of these injuries (fractured elbow and fractured thumb) were a result of aggressive plays made in the field. Still, even if you're going to say these were freak injuries that likely won't occur again, before making any kind of significant commitment for one year or more, you have to account for the mounting lingering effects."

Another reason why Atlanta might be less inclined to sign Pollock? The franchise still is dealing with the fallout from being hit hard for infractions on the international market and in the MLB Draft in late 2017, and Pollock is tied to Draft-pick compensation for declining the one-year qualifiying offer from the D-backs.

"The [Braves] likely would jump on [Pollock] at a dollar figure it deemed acceptable," MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal writes in a story for The Athletic (subscription required). "But the pick -- which for the Braves would be their second overall choice, likely in the mid-60s -- would be part of the acquisition cost. And the Braves, because of all the young players the penalties cost them and all those they will lose in the future, value the selection more than most clubs."

The division-rival Mets had been rumored to be very interested in Pollock earlier in the offseason, but it appears unlikely he'll land in Queens unless it's on a one-year pillow contract, as SNY's Andy Martino speculates. There have been multiple other clubs linked to Pollock -- including the Dodgers, Phillies and White Sox -- but possibly due to the fact that fellow outfielder Bryce Harper hasn't yet signed, nothing has materialized to this point.

If it came down to it, would the Reds choose Keuchel or Pollock?
Jan. 13: The Reds have made it clear this offseason that upgrading their starting rotation is a priority, trading for both Tanner Roark and Alex Wood. They also have a vacancy in center field after non-tendering Billy Hamilton. So if it came down to it, would Cincinnati pursue free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel or free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock?

In his latest Inbox, MLB.com's Mark Sheldon suggests Keuchel would be the choice given that he could be a "bigger difference maker in an area of weakness."

"The Reds could get by with Yasiel Puig, Scott Schebler or Nick Senzel in center field if they had to this season and have some good prospects not too far away from being ready," Sheldon notes.

Keuchel, 31, is a former American League Cy Young Award winner, though he has had up-and-down seasons since 2015, along with declining fastball velocity. Still, he is among the best in the game at producing soft contact and ground balls, skills that would play very well at the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

Pollock, also 31, presents upside given the flashes of brilliance he's shown at the plate and in center field. But his injury history is long, and he's only played in 237 games since 2016. Pollock won a Gold Glove Award in his last healthy season (157 games in 2015), and last season, he was slashing .293/.349/.620 with 11 home runs and nine steals before fracturing his left thumb on a dive in center field on May 14.

A.J. Pollock

Bryant on Harper: 'He's not signing here'

Cubs Convention gives players chance to connect with fans
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant knew that it would be the first question he encountered when the doors to the Sheraton Grand Chicago banquet hall opened and reporters waited inside. So, with four words and a smile, the Cubs star tossed some ice-cold water on the idea that his friend, free agent Bryce Harper, might ink a contract with the North Siders.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said.

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant knew that it would be the first question he encountered when the doors to the Sheraton Grand Chicago banquet hall opened and reporters waited inside. So, with four words and a smile, the Cubs star tossed some ice-cold water on the idea that his friend, free agent Bryce Harper, might ink a contract with the North Siders.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said.

While that comment began to cause a stir on social media, Cubs Convention kicked off with its usual fanfare. Longtime radio voice Pat Hughes took to the podium and declared, "Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air!" Wayne Messmer filled the room with his signature rendition of the national anthem and angst over a quiet winter was temporarily quieted by the roar from the blue-and-red-clad fanatics.

The introductions started with Cubs players of yesteryear, who took the stage, soaked in the cheers and high-fived children as all those remember-when memories flooded the crowd. Then, it was time to introduce the current roster. It looks a lot like last year's group, which won 95 games, but was pushed off the October stage after a one-and-done Wild Card Game.

That sting remains as sharp as the wind off Lake Michigan, but some players said maybe it was a needed reality check.

"In 2019, I think we're going to be more hungry than last year," Willson Contreras said.

Tweet from @Cubs: Center stage at #CubsCon! 🐻��� pic.twitter.com/jQ9Rvagwke

Bryant, who will play as big a role as anyone in righting Chicago's offensive shortcomings of last summer, said losing the division to the Brewers in Game 163, followed by the Wild Card Game against the Rockies, was a good thing.

"It's kind of good for us to go through that and get our teeth kicked in a little bit on our field," Bryant said. "It was really good for us. I think ultimately, we'll all learn from it and come out with a chip on our shoulder, definitely."

They will need to do that, because as Bryant said -- and as manager Joe Maddon repeated multiple times this week at charity stops -- Harper is not walking through Wrigley Field's door.

The Cubs' payroll will be the highest in franchise history this year, but the budget in place has left the front office "less nimble" than previous winters, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein explained. The team added an intriguing veteran infielder in Daniel Descalso and is still monitoring the relief market for reinforcements, but the big-ticket items were for past winters, not this one.

Bryant also spun that as a positive, noting that the lack of turnover shows a surplus of trust.

"Honestly, I understand some of the fan frustration," Bryant said. "But, as a player, that feels pretty good, knowing that your owner, and your president and GM all trust the team that we have. That means something to us, knowing that, 'Hey, we don't really need another addition, because we know that the talent that we have is pretty dang good.' I like the team we have. A lot of these guys have been on that [2016] World Series team."

Without any marquee additions, much of the onus will fall on Bryant's shoulders. Specifically, the 2016 National League MVP's left shoulder will be under the public microscope after what happened last year. After a strong start to the '18 campaign, Bryant was first shelved with inflammation in that area in late June. It emerged as an issue again in late July, and he did not look the same after returning again in September.

Bryant's shoulder never received the necessary rest and it took a toll on his home run total (down to 13 in '18 after launching 68 combined in the previous two years) and his slugging percentage (down to .460 in '18 from .537 in '17). Around Dec. 1 this offseason, Bryant resumed his hitting program and he said there have been no problems. The extra time off was beneficial for the healing process and he feels his swing is back to normal.

"Perfect," Bryant said of his health. "I feel so good. I feel great. I'm doing everything that I can this offseason. I feel very strong. I can't say enough how good I feel."

Can he be an MVP-level slugger again?

"There's no reason to think that I won't do that," he said.

Bryant is also looking forward to being reunited with Anthony Iapoce, who is the Cubs' new hitting coach and knows plenty of the team's hitters from his earlier days as a Minor League hitting coordinator with the organization. Iapoce and assistant hitting coach Terrmel Sledge will provide the position players with two fresh voices and some new eyes after the offense labored last year.

"I love him. I'm really, really, really excited about 'Poce," Bryant said. "There's just something about him. There's a good energy. I don't know if you guys have talked to him yet, but you'll get to know him. He's just one of the most positive guys that I've been around. He's someone you want in a clubhouse and I can't wait for the season to start with him."

A recent report out of New York claimed that Bryant and Anthony Rizzo played a large role in the Cubs' parting ways with hitting coach Chili Davis last season. Bryant would not go that far, but did say Davis (now the Mets' hitting coach) did not "mesh" well with some hitters.

"I don't make the decisions at all and I can tell you it's not just because of me and [Rizzo]," Bryant said. "I think Chili was a great guy, fun to talk to, but I just think some of our hitting philosophies didn't match up. And that's OK. The guy had a 19-year big league career. He has nothing to prove."

No, it will be the Cubs' hitters for the most part who have something to prove, especially if help is not coming in the form of a premier bat like Harper.

Bryant said he has tried not to pester his friend about the looming decision.

"That's his business," Bryant said. "It's a good time for him and his family. And I'm not going to be another one of the guys that are asking him where he's going to sign. I'm happy for him, though. He seems to be enjoying it. It's nice to have all that attention on you."

Bryant laughed when asked about the fact that Harper's dog is named Wrigley.

"I mean, it's been named Wrigley for a long time," Bryant said. "I don't know. I think it's a cool pet name. My cat's named Wrigley. And I had a cat named Fenway."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Analyzing every big offseason move (thus far)

MLB.com @mike_petriello

There have been dozens of moves so far this winter, including trades, free-agent signings, waiver claims and so on, and we'll be examining each of them right here. 

For our purposes, we're only looking at players who found new homes, so moves like Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce returning to Boston or J.A. Happ and Zach Britton staying in the Bronx won't be reflected here. Some smaller moves, like Robinson Chirinos joining the Astros or David Phelps and Matt Shoemaker signing in Toronto or Tyson Ross and Jordy Mercer heading to Detroit, may also not be included.

There have been dozens of moves so far this winter, including trades, free-agent signings, waiver claims and so on, and we'll be examining each of them right here. 

For our purposes, we're only looking at players who found new homes, so moves like Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce returning to Boston or J.A. Happ and Zach Britton staying in the Bronx won't be reflected here. Some smaller moves, like Robinson Chirinos joining the Astros or David Phelps and Matt Shoemaker signing in Toronto or Tyson Ross and Jordy Mercer heading to Detroit, may also not be included.

We'll add to this each time a notable move gets finalized, with the most recent updates at the top. We don't hit every deal, but we tried to note every one that will have a major impact in 2019.

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Jan. 17, 2019: P Cody Allen signs with Angels (reported; club has not confirmed)

One year, $8.5 million

This would be a huge steal based on Allen's first five full seasons. From 2013-17, the right-hander gave the Indians at least 67 appearances, a sub-3.00 ERA and a 29 percent strikeout rate every year as he developed into one of the game's better closers. But then Allen's numbers took a big step back in '18. While he still took the ball 70 times, his strikeout rate tumbled, his walk rate jumped and he served up 11 homers, contributing to a 4.70 ERA and 4.56 FIP. With that in mind, this looks like a reasonable gamble for the Angels, who needed back-of-the-bullpen help and could end up with a major bargain if Allen rebounds.

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Jan. 17, 2019: P Adam Ottavino signs with Yankees (reported; club has not confirmed)

Three years, $27 million

Yes, Ottavino made headlines recently when, speaking on the Statcast™ Podcast, he said he would "strike out Babe Ruth every time." But while it's a fun story that Ottavino is now headed to Ruth's old stomping grounds, the most important thing is that the Yankees are adding yet another elite reliever to an already packed bullpen -- one that could be historically great, again. A year ago, coming off a 5.06 ERA, Ottavino "attacked the offseason" by using state-of-the-art technology to revamp his reptertoire. The result was a 2.43 ERA, one of MLB's top strikeout rates, and great success limiting opponents' quality of contact. This is a great pickup for the Yankees, even if they didn't "need" another ace reliever.

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Jan. 14, 2019: C Yasmani Grandal signs with Brewers

One year, $18.25 million, with a mutual option for 2020

Grandal's combination of elite framing and strong hitting (.241/.349/.466, 24 home runs in 2018) made him an incredibly appealing free agent in a world where it's hard to find a catcher who can hit, even if his high-profile postseason struggles were an issue. That makes him a huge upgrade for Milwaukee over Erik Kratz and Manny Pina, who combined to hit .246/.296/.379 in 2018, especially in a very tight National League Central. 

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Jan. 14, 2019: 2B DJ LeMahieu signs with Yankees

Two years, $24 million

Your opinion on this one is going to very much depend on whether you see LeMahieu as being "not Manny Machado," in which case this wasn't exactly the Yankees infield signing most people wanted it to be. So there's that, but that doesn't change the fact that LeMahieu is something of an interesting gamble for New York, which could badly use his plus defensive glove in a weak defensive infield. While his away-from-Coors numbers have been subpar (.277 OBP in 2018), we investigated the fact that those numbers can't simply be taken at face value, and the underlying metrics in terms of hard-hit rate and a declining ground-ball rate offer some hope that there's yet more offense for LeMahieu to offer.

Video: MLB Now on Yanks inking LeMahieu, impact on Machado

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Jan. 11, 2019: C Russell Martin traded from Blue Jays to Dodgers

Martin traded for Minor Leaguers P Andrew Sopko and IF Ronny Brito

Last year Matt Kemp, this year Martin, next year ... James Loney? Chad Billingsley? The Dodgers are hoping this year's "ghost of 2009 past" works as well as Kemp's return did, except that the soon-to-be 36-year-old Martin hit just .194/.338/.325 last year. The good news is that the underlying stats suggest he might have more in the tank, and his defense remains solid. The better news is that the Jays are covering $16.4 million of his $20 million salary. The problem is that fellow backstop Austin Barnes hit only .205/.329/.290, and each are steps down from the departing Grandal.

Toronto didn't save much money here, but it did open up room for the impressive young Danny Jansen. That alone seems worthwhile.  

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Jan. 10, 2019: 2B Jed Lowrie signs with Mets

Two years, $20 million

Did the Mets really need another infielder? You could probably argue that the answer is "not as much as they needed another outfielder or a reliever," but an equally good answer is that having too many good players is not really a problem at all. Remember: The 2018 Mets gave 582 plate appearances to infielders Jose Reyes, Adrian Gonzalez, Luis Guillorme, Phillip Evans, Ty Kelly and Jack Reinheimer. They collectively hit .202/.274/.306 (62 wRC+). Lowrie may be 35 in April, but he also just put up back-to-back strong seasons, combined at a 120 wRC+. 

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Jan. 10, 2019: 2B Brian Dozier signs with Nationals

One year, $9 million

Dozier made it clear that he'd been hampered through 2018 by a knee injury, one that almost certainly contributed to a poor .215/.305/.391 line between the Twins and Dodgers. If he's healthy, and the knee is what caused the down year, it's not at all hard to see him get back to the player who smashed 42 homers in '16 and 34 more in '17. 

Video: Collier on Dozier's deal with Nationals

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Jan. 7, 2019: P Kelvin Herrera signs with White Sox

Two years, $18 million, with a 2021 team option 

Herrera joins Alex Colome, Nate Jones and Jace Fry in what's quietly an intriguing White Sox bullpen, or at least it will be if Herrera looks more like the Royals version of himself and not the Washington version that struggled -- though he clearly wasn't healthy, given the shoulder and foot injuries that curtailed his season before the end of August. Health aside, however, Herrera's velocity has been in decline for a few years, down from 2012's 99.1 mph to last year's 96.5 mph. There is some real risk here for Chicago. 

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Jan. 3, 2019: P David Robertson signs with Phillies

Two years, $23 million, with a 2021 team option 

We tend to think of relievers as somewhat unreliable, prone to inconsistency from year to year. Whether that's accurate or not, it simply hasn't applied to Robertson, who has been an above-average bullpen arm for going on a full decade now, throwing between 60 and 70 good innings each year since 2010. In '18, he put up a perfectly Robertson season, with a 32 percent strikeout rate and a 9 percent walk rate; his career marks are 32 percent and 10 percent. This was a really nice pickup for Philly.

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Jan. 2, 2019: DH Nelson Cruz signs with Twins

One year, $14.3 million, with a 2020 team option 

The way baseball works these days, it's not often that a 38-year-old without a defensive position would be considered a smart signing, but this is the perfect marriage of team, player and need. When we looked at Cruz back in October, we noted two things. First, it seemed clear that there's very little to indicate that he's slowing down, as he just finished his fifth straight season of at least 37 homers. Second, the power-hungry Twins were always going to be one of only a few likely landing spots, making this a perfectly reasonable pairing.

Video: Nelson Cruz on signing a 1-year deal with the Twins

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Dec. 28, 2018: C Jonathan Lucroy signs with Angels

One year, $3.35 million 

The Angels desperately needed a catcher. Lucroy is definitely a catcher. That's maybe an oversimplification, but the second-half Halos catchers (mostly after trading away Martin Maldonado, and relying upon Jose Briceno, Francisco Arcia and Joe Hudson) hit all of .195/.234/.356. That's not nearly enough when you have a Mike Trout to build around, so the Angels imported Lucroy, who hit only .241/.291/.325 last year with below-average framing marks, though he did receive praise for how he handled a tattered Oakland pitching staff. It's not the Grandal they needed, but it's a slight upgrade.

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Dec. 21, 2018: P Andrew Miller signs with Cardinals

Two years, $25 million, with a 2021 team option

Miller converted to the bullpen full-time in 2012, and he spent the next five years not only dominating as a reliever, but helping to redefine what a high-leverage reliever even meant. As recently as 2017, he was great -- 1.44 ERA, 95 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings -- but '18 was an injury-plagued mess, as he was sidelined by problems with his hamstring, knee and shoulder. That cost him nearly two mph on his fastball from what it had been in '16, and he turns 34 in May, so this isn't without risk. If a healthy Miller is the guy we saw for the previous half-decade, this is a steal for a disappointing St. Louis bullpen that needed the boost. 

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Dec. 21, 2018: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Kemp and P Alex Wood traded to Reds

Puig, Kemp, Wood and C Kyle Farmer traded from Dodgers to Reds for RHP Homer Bailey and Minor Leaguers IF Jeter Downs and RHP Josiah Gray

The Reds insisted they wanted to improve this winter, and they have. It's complicated, because they still might be the fifth-most-talented team in the stacked NL Central, but this trade was a step in the right direction. Wood is a badly needed starter for a rotation desperate for one, and Puig adds another above-average bat to what was already a strong lineup. The bonus here is that if it doesn't work out, they can trade either of them in July. Cincinnati got better, and it managed to do it while shipping out Bailey and not giving up any of its top five prospects.

For the Dodgers, this may yet be an "incomplete," because they managed to pare down their overstuffed outfield while cutting approximately $17 million off their luxury tax payroll, presumably opening up room to make a big move. (Bailey was released immediately.) The thing is, no such move has happened so far, so for the moment, the short and long-term benefits are still uncertain.

Video: IT discusses Reds' improvements after big trade

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Dec. 21, 2018: IF Jurickson Profar traded from Rangers to A's

Profar traded from Rangers to A's in a three-way trade involving the Rays. The deal included five Minor Leaguers, international slot money, a competitive balance pick moving among the three teams, as well as P Emilio Pagan going from the A's to the Rays

After years of prospect hype that never seemed to come to fruition thanks largely to repeated shoulder injuries and a deep Texas infield, Profar finally broke out in 2018, hitting 20 homers with a .254/.335/.458 line while making starts at all four infield spots. His reward was a trade to Oakland, where he'll likely be the primary second baseman. While Profar is still only going to be 26 this year, he's been around for so long that he's only two years from free agency. That said, he helps Oakland now, and it only cost them a middle reliever in Pagan as well as the pick and the slot space.

The rebuilding Rangers turned two years of Profar -- two years in which they're not likely to contend in the American League West -- into four new prospects and $750,000 in international slot money, which isn't terribly exciting, but is also not a bad return considering that just a year ago, it seemed like Profar would never make it work.

Tampa Bay isn't rebuilding, but it did need to condense its high-level prospects, and Pagan is an interesting righty who has struck out a man per inning in his brief career, and the Rays add Oakland's competitive balance pick as well.

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Dec. 20, 2018: P Joakim Soria signs with A's

Two years, $15 million 

Soria has bounced around quite a bit since he was the bright spot on some poor Kansas City teams between 2007-11, but all these years later, he's still an effective reliever, even headed into his age-35 season. Soria still throws in the same 92 mph range he did at his best, and he still has some quality secondary pitches. It's a solid signing for Oakland.

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Dec. 20, 2018: 1B Daniel Murphy signs with Rockies

Two years, $24 million, with a mutual option for 2021

The Rockies desperately needed to add some offense to what was a surprisingly ineffective lineup, especially at first base, where a group led by Ian Desmond (.236/.307/.422) finished as the second-weakest collection in baseball. Murphy is 34 and will be playing first base regularly for the first time since 2009, and his '18 numbers look low because of a very slow start while recovering from knee surgery. He did hit a more Murphy-like .315/.346/.498 in the second half, and he still makes an elite amount of contact. If he's healthy, he might hit 50 doubles in the spacious Coors Field outfield.

Video: Murphy happy to join Rockies, make postseason push

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Dec. 20, 2018: P Anibal Sanchez signs with Nationals

Two years, $19 million, with a 2021 team option

It looked for all the world like Sanchez was cooked when he was putting up ERA marks of 4.99, 5.87 and 6.41 for the Tigers from 2015-17, but healthy -- and emphasizing his cutter -- in '18, he put up a strong rebound 2.83 season. (It helped that he had the lowest hard-hit rate of any healthy starter.) That earned him a two-year deal as Tanner Roark's replacement in Washington, which is probably a small upgrade, though it might have looked better to have both of them behind "the big three" at the top of the rotation.

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Dec. 20, 2018: P Trevor Cahill signs with Angels

One year, $9 million

Cahill has been very good except for when he's not, and that's not really the logic puzzle it seems like it is. First-half Cahill has a 3.10 ERA over the last two seasons; second-half Cahill has a 4.37 ERA. That's probably not unrelated to health concerns, as he ran into shoulder issues in 2017 and a back problem in '18, and maybe the Angels think they can help him manage that better. If you could rely on him all year, he'd have been making more than $9 million anyway. 

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Dec. 18, 2018: P Matt Harvey signs with Angels

One year, $11 million

Harvey didn't exactly find new life with the Reds in 2018, posting a 4.50 ERA, in no small part because his fastball velocity and especially spin just isn't what it was in his heyday with the Mets. As a Red, his 21 percent strikeout rate was about average, his five percent walk rate was somewhat better than average; this is why he managed to get only a one-year deal, barely more than three years after taking a shutout into the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. Harvey might never be that guy again, but the Angels could definitely use a league-average starter.

Video: MLB Tonight on Harvey heading to Angels

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Dec. 17, 2018: OF Michael Brantley signs with Astros

Two years, $32 million

File this one under "the most Astros signing possible," because the lineup that just had baseball's second-lowest strikeout rate added the hitter who had ... baseball's second-lowest strikeout rate. It's all about health with Brantley, who had a very good rebound in 2018 (.309/.364/.468) after getting into just 101 games in 2016-17, so as long he's available, he'll hit. 

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Dec. 16, 2018: C Wilson Ramos signs with Mets

Two years, $19 million, with a team option for 2021

Mets catchers hit only .202/.289/.353 in 2018. Ramos (.306/.358/.487) was the best-hitting catcher in the game in '18. Sometimes, it doesn't have to be more complicated than that. It's true that Ramos sometimes has trouble staying healthy -- since '12, he's injured his knee twice, his hand once and his hamstrings three times. That's why he was available for two years, not four or five. A good get for New York.

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Dec. 15, 2018: 1B Yonder Alonso traded from Indians to White Sox

Alonso traded for Minor League OF Alex Call

It's extremely tempting to buy into the narrative that the White Sox are just signing Machado's friends and family -- Alonso's sister, of course, is married to Machado, and new outfielder Jon Jay is a longtime Machado pal -- but it's also hard to imagine anything other than the largest contract swaying the superstar infielder. On the other hand, the White Sox already have Jose Abreu at first base, and Alonso's league-average .250/.317/.421 line in 2018 isn't exactly going to vault the Sox into contention. If Machado ends up on the South Side, this looks like an inspired transaction, but a pretty ordinary move if not. 

Video: Addition of Alonso could help White Sox land Machado

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Dec. 13, 2018: P Joe Kelly signs with Dodgers

Three years, $25 million, with a team option for 2022

If you believe in the 11 1/3 postseason innings Kelly threw, where he struck out 13 without allowing a single walk, then this deal is an absolute steal. If you look at the longer track record of control issues -- his 11.2 percent walk rate was worse than 90 percent of the other pitchers who threw at least 60 innings this year -- then you can understand why this one left many Dodger fans unimpressed.

You'd never take Kelly's 11 1/3 innings as being more important than the 600 or so inconsistent ones that came before it, but those postseason innings did come after some very noticeable late-season changes, and the Dodgers are clearly gambling that they can take his high-velocity fastball/high-spin curveball combination and make the most of them.

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Dec. 13, 2018: The Carlos Santana / Edwin Encarnacion / Yandy Diaz trade

1B Santana traded from Mariners to Indians in three-way trade involving the Rays, with 1B Jake Bauers going from Rays to Indians, DH Encarnacion going from Indians to Mariners, and IF Diaz and Minor League P Cole Sulser going from Indians to Rays, with cash and competitive balance picks also changing hands.

This might forever be known as "the trade Jerry Dipoto made from a hospital bed," but beyond that, this one had a ton of moving parts. When the Mariners acquired Santana in the Jean Segura trade, it was always clear he was a Seattle short-timer. It was just somewhat surprising that he ended up moving for his former Cleveland teammate in Encarnacion, who may not last long in the Pacific Northwest either. What they did accomplish here was to clear some 2020 money, since Santana was due about $40 million over two years, while Encarnacion is going to get $20 million in '19. (They also get the No. 77 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, from Cleveland.)

From Tampa Bay's perspective, this is a clear bet on Diaz's ability to mash the ball. It's a risk to move the 23-year-old Bauers, who had a decent partial-season debut in 2018, for the 27-year-old Diaz, who somehow has only nine professional homers in the last two seasons despite looking like this. This is the entire point: Diaz has 97th-percentile hard-hit skills, but he's also in the 97th percentile of hitting grounders. The Rays think they can get him to elevate and tap into his power. Cleveland never could. We'll see if the Rays can do better. It cost them Bauers and $5 million in cash to find out.

Cleveland gives up on Diaz's potential, and it swaps Encarnacion for Santana, which gains the Indians youth (Santana is three years younger) and better first-base defense, but they also add Bauers, who still has six years of control remaining and a strong Minor League pedigree. His 2018 debut was more decent than stellar -- he hit a slightly below-average .201/.316/.384 -- but if the Tribe thought it could never get Diaz to elevate, then the club will probably happy with the more reliable, if lower ceiling, Bauers. 

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Dec. 13, 2018: P Jeurys Familia signs with Mets

Three years, $30 million

Once-and-future Met Familia returns to New York after a two-month stint in Oakland, but he's unlikely to take the same closer role he used to have now that Edwin Diaz is in town. Familia still throws as hard as he ever did -- last year, his sinker averaged 96.1 mph -- but something interesting happened after he was traded to the A's. After consistently posting strikeout rates in the 22-to-28 percent range with the Mets, he posted a 31 percent rate in the DH league. It seems like at least part of that may be due to more sliders and four-seamers at the expense of Familia's sinker -- he did drop his grounder rate from 50 percent to 40, unsurprisingly -- so it will be interesting to see if he maintains that going forward.

Video: Familia excited to return to Mets, set up Diaz

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Dec. 12, 2018: P Roark traded from Nationals to Reds for P Tanner Rainey

Just as they did in the Puig-Kemp-Wood trade, the Reds added badly needed depth without having to slice off the top part of their farm system. Roark is hardly a star, but there's value in a reliably decent league-average starter, which is what he's been the last two years (361 2/3 innings, 97 ERA+). It may not sound like much, but Reds starters had a 5.02 ERA last year, the second-highest in the NL, so he helps.

Rainey has an electric arm, averaging 97.7 mph in a brief big league look, so the appeal for Washington in turning one year of Roark into six of Rainey is obvious. The only problem there is that Rainey has never thrown strikes -- 72 walks in 59 combined Major and Minor League innings last year -- so if Washington can't help improve his command, it's fair to wonder if it would rather have just had the rotation depth Roark would have offered.

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Dec. 12, 2018: P Charlie Morton signs with Rays

Two years, $30 million, with a vesting option for 2021

For all the success Tampa Bay found with "the Opener" in 2018, the Rays were also always going to need a good starter to pair with Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. In Morton, they found one of the best starters available, because after a decade of inconsistent work (mainly with the Pirates), his past two years in Houston were outstanding, thanks mostly to increased velocity (a career-high 96.1 mph in 2018) and diminished usage of his sinker in favor of more four-seamers and more curveballs. It didn't get a ton of hype, but this move could have a big impact on the Wild Card race.

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Dec. 12, 2018: P Lance Lynn signs with Rangers

Three years, $30 million

An early contender for the "most surprising contract of the offseason." Lynn had to settle for just a one-year deal last spring, then had what looked like a poor season, posting a 4.77 ERA in 156 2/3 innings between the Twins and the Yankees. He somehow managed to turn that into a three-year deal for the rebuilding Rangers, stunning most of baseball. It's true that the Rangers badly needed starters, and that Lynn was far more interesting with the Yankees -- believe it or not, he had a 38/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against righties with New York. 

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Dec. 11, 2018: OF Andrew McCutchen signs with Phillies

Three years, $50 million, with a team option for 2022

The size of this deal seemed to shock many at the time, though it's important to note that part of what the Phillies are buying here is the ability to stay on the field; McCutchen has taken at least 650 plate appearances in nine straight years. He's clearly not the MVP-caliber star he once was, though he remains comfortably above average, posting a 123 wRC+ in 2017 for the Pirates and a 120 wRC+ in a '18 split between the Giants and Yankees, along with eight straight seasons of 20-plus home runs.

The Phillies clearly weren't going to trot out an outfield full of Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams again; McCutchen isn't Bryce Harper, but he's still a step up in a place where they needed one.

Video: McCutchen excited to join promising Phillies

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Dec. 5, 2018: 1B Paul Goldschmidt traded from D-Backs to Cardinals

Goldschmidt and Minor League IF Andy Young traded for C Carson Kelly, P Luke Weaver and 2019 competitive balance pick

In 2017, the Cardinals went into the offseason claiming they needed to add an "impact bat." They came away with Miami's Marcell Ozuna, and it didn't really work out, though there's plenty of reason to expect they'll get more from him in 2019. Now they're in arguably the most competitive division in baseball, where the Cubs and Brewers are each going for it and even the Reds are taking steps to be more competitive.

This time around, the Cards made an aggressive move to add Goldschmidt, who has now put up seven straight star-level seasons. (No, seriously. Since 2012, Goldschmidt ranks fourth in baseball in the FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement.) 

The Cardinals can also dream on something better, because -- presumably due to the new humidor in Chase Field -- Goldschmidt had some serious home-road splits in 2018, putting up a .782 OPS at home and a 1.053 mark on the road. St. Louis needed a big bat, and they got one of the best.

For Arizona, this may not have been the return fans wanted for the best hitter in team history. Then again, the D-backs were selling just a single year of Goldschmidt in a market where first basemen haven't been valued highly, and they got a ready-now catcher in the 24-year-old Kelly, who had perpetually been stuck behind Yadier Molina, and an interesting young pitcher in the 25-year-old Weaver, who had an encouraging 2017 debut (3.88 ERA in 60 1/3 innings) before taking an apparent step back in '18.

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Dec. 4, 2018: P Patrick Corbin signs with Nationals

Six years, $140 million

Corbin's career path towards signing a nine-figure deal with Washington may not be exactly what you would have expected, but he was also clearly the best pitcher available, striking out a career-high 246 hitters in 200 innings, thanks in no small part to throwing his deadly slider more than 40 percent of the time and pairing it with a new curveball, which is really just the same slider thrown more slowly.

Tweet from @mike_petriello: Patrick Corbin's trajectory is something else2013: All-Star2014: Tommy John2015: recovery, half season2016: demoted to bullpen 2017: Solid, nondescript season2018: #5 in NL Cy Young, AS2019-> $140MM

Despite that, there's no question that Corbin pitched at an ace level in 2018, and now he'll join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg atop what could be a very good Nationals rotation. By simply going out and getting the best pitcher they could, while realizing that the NL East looks like it's going to be a meat grinder where every game matters, it's a win for the Nats. 

There's risk here, obviously. Corbin turns 30 this summer, and he's had two good seasons and one great season, though obviously the great season was his most recent. It's not fair to call him a "one-pitch pitcher," but the fastball isn't a carrying tool if the slider doesn't work. This isn't exactly like when the Nationals signed Scherzer heading into 2015 after several very good years in Detroit. 

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Dec. 3, 2018: P Diaz and 2B Robinson Cano traded to Mets

Diaz, Cano and cash traded from Mariners to Mets for OF Jay Bruce, P Anthony Swarzak, P Gerson Bautista and Minor Leaguers OF Jarred Kelenic and P Justin Dunn

New Mets GM Brodie van Wagenen wanted to make a big splash, and it's fair to say he did exactly that with this one, trading two of New York's most highly regarded prospects -- Kellenic had been the No. 6 overall pick just last June -- for one of the game's most elite relievers in Diaz and the still-productive 35-year-old Cano.

Let's start with what we know: Diaz is truly dominant, putting up a 124/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio (and a 1.96 ERA) in his age-24 season, and he's under control for four more years, so he's a clear boost to the Mets' bullpen. It's not unreasonable to say he's better than Craig Kimbrel at this point.

As for Cano, you probably don't want to be signed up for $120 million over his age-36 through 40 seasons, as the Mets are, but it's worth noting that Mets were able to shed some salary in this deal (not to mention $20 million from the Mariners), and he still crushed in 2018, hitting .303/.374/.471, and was actually better after his PED suspension (.860 OPS) than he was before it (.825). We can't know if this is a good idea for, say, 2022, but for '19 the Mets will be better -- though it's still not clear that they're more than the second- or third-best team in the NL East.

It's similarly uncertain for the Mariners. It would have seemed like a minor miracle to find someone to take on the remainder of Cano's contract after the suspension, and they gained two very good prospects in the process. But would they have done better if they hadn't shackled Cano to Diaz? If they're only taking a brief step back, should they have just kept Diaz for a potential 2020 contending season?

Video: Van Wagenen on acquiring impact players Cano, Diaz

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Dec. 3, 2018: SS Segura traded from Mariners to Phillies

Segura, P Juan Nicasio and P James Pazos traded from Mariners to Phillies for SS J.P. Crawford and 1B Santana

The Phillies made it clear that they wanted to improve their shoddy defense, and installing Segura at shortstop rather than Scott Kingery is a nice step forward in that regard. This move actually helped their defense in two places, because shipping Santana west allows them to get Hoskins out of left field and back to first base. Segura's more than just a good glove, having hit .308/.353/.449 with 41 home runs over the past three years, and Nicasio is a lot better than his 6.00 ERA would indicate.

The benefits are less clear for Seattle, because Segura was under contract for four more years, and that should have made him valuable. But Santana was simply salary the Mariners had to eat (and eventually flip to Cleveland), and a lot of the shine is off Crawford's once-bright prospect future. While much of his 2018 struggle can be blamed on a pair of injuries (a forearm strain and a broken left hand), he also didn't exactly dominate as he progressed through the Minors, posting just a .244/.343/.370 line in over 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances. Crawford only turned 24 in January, so there's obviously a lot of time and talent left here. It's just less certain than ever that he turns it into production.

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Nov. 30, 2018: P Colome traded from Mariners to White Sox for C Omar Narvaez

Colome was once a quietly strong reliever for the Rays. Now he's on his third team in the past seven months -- he went through Seattle first, as is law -- and since he can still miss bats and throw hard, he gives the White Sox two years of what should be decently productive work, likely in the ninth inning. It cost them four years of catcher Narvaez, who had a breakout hitting season (.275/.366/.429), but is one of baseball's weakest defensive catchers (-16 runs below average, per Baseball Prospectus' metrics). It's unclear if this is an upgrade on Mike Zunino for the Mariners. It likely is one for the White Sox, who expect Welington Castillo back and added James McCann as depth.

---------------------------------------------

Nov. 30, 2018: P Jesse Chavez signs with Rangers

Two years, $8 million

The 35-year-old Chavez has been on six teams in the past four years, so this one is hardly going to move any needles, but it's also worth noting how good Chavez was after Texas traded him to the Cubs last summer. In 32 games, he had a 1.15 ERA and a 42/5 strikeout-to-walk rate, becoming one of the more important members of Chicago's bullpen. Chavez is not that good long-term, obviously, but it coincided with increased usage of his cutter (from 30 percent with the Rangers to 46 percent with the Cubs). Chavez needs merely to be decent to earn this contract. He might be far better.

Video: Chavez to return to Rangers on 2-year deal

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Nov. 30, 2018: C Yan Gomes traded from Indians to Nationals
Nov. 20, 2018: C Kurt Suzuki signs with Nationals

Gomes traded for P Jefry Rodriguez and Minor Leaguers OF Daniel Johnson and IF Andruw Monasterio. Suzuki signs for two years, $20 million

There's no reason not to lump these together, so let's lump them together. After two seasons of below-average backstop play from Matt Wieters, the Nationals made it clear they were seeking an upgrade behind the plate, and adding Gomes and Suzuki does exactly that. Suzuki has had a nice late-career turnaround, hitting .276/.341/.485 with 31 homers over the past two seasons. Gomes bounced back from three injury-plagued and unproductive years to hit a league-average .266/.313/.449, which, when combined with strong defense, made him a productive catcher. 

Cleveland downgraded behind the plate, essentially swapping out Gomes for Kevin Plawecki -- whom the Indians later acquired from the Mets to pair with Roberto Perez -- and their 2019 roster is somewhat worse for it. That said, Johnson showed off some stunning tools in the Arizona Fall League, and there's certainly opportunity in a weak Tribe outfield. Rodriguez may be a reliever long-term; right now, he's a 25-year-old who just threw 52 innings in the bigs and can hit 99 mph. That's not nothing.

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Nov. 28, 2018: P Garrett Richards signs with Padres

Two years, $15.5 million

If you liked the Eovaldi deal that the Rays signed prior to 2017 -- paying an injured pitcher to rehab in the hopes that the second year would pay off -- then you'll love the Richards deal, because the Padres are trying to replicate it. He'll miss '19 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and like Eovaldi there's little guarantee he'll ever be healthy. But when Richards has been able to pitch, he's been far more productive than Eovaldi ever was before joining the Red Sox (3.15 ERA in 514 2/3 innings from 2014-18) and that likely gives San Diego either a productive '20 rotation member, midseason trade bait, or both. 

---------------------------------------------

Nov. 26, 2018: 3B Josh Donaldson signs with Braves

One year, $23 million

Donaldson has been on the disabled list four times in the past two seasons, and he managed to get into just 52 games in 2018. He's now 33, and the risk here is obvious, in that he'll have to stay healthy and on the field for a team that can't offer him the option of playing designated hitter. Then again, late-season Donaldson looked a lot more like himself than early-season Donaldson did, and even $23 million for one year is a bargain if he's got another of those MVP-caliber seasons in him. If not, at least it's just for one year, making it a risk worth taking.

Video: Donaldson on signing a 1-year deal with the Braves

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Nov. 26, 2018: 1B/DH C.J. Cron claimed off waivers by Twins

Cron hit 30 homers with a .253/.323/.493 line for Tampa Bay, then was designated for assignment. Such is the life of a defensively limited righty/righty first baseman without a strong track record, we suppose, because the Rays have a few of those, though the Twins are surely happy to have added some power (along with Cruz) to a lineup that was sorely missing it in 2018.

---------------------------------------------

Nov. 20, 2018: P James Paxton traded from Mariners to Yankees

Paxton traded for P Justus Sheffield and Minor Leaguers P Erik Swanson and OF Dom Thompson-Williams

Paxton is almost certainly never going to be the traditional 200-inning horse. If you can get past that, then the Yankees clearly improved themselves by adding one of the game's better lefty starters to a rotation that at the time consisted primarily of Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino. (They'd later bring back Happ and CC Sabathia.) Over the past two years, 197 starters have thrown 100 innings, and only four -- Chris Sale, Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Robbie Ray -- have a higher strikeout rate than Paxton. He's extremely good.

Whether or not you think the deal was too risky for the Yankees -- or worth it for Seattle -- depends largely on how you feel about the quality of the prospects going west. Sheffield is a ready-now 22-year-old with a good arm, but also a twice-traded one who was more "good" than "dominating" in the Minors thanks to some command issues. Swanson could be a back-end starter or a good reliever; Thompson-Williams is skilled, but hasn't yet gone beyond Class A.

Seattle's farm system had been one of the weakest in the game, so no matter what, this represents a badly needed infusion of talent. It's just not yet clear what level that talent will reach.

Video: Paxton on finding out he was traded to the Yankees

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Nov. 8, 2018: C Zunino traded from Mariners to Rays

Zunino, OF Guillermo Heredia and Minor League P Michael Plassmeyer traded to the Rays for OF Mallex Smith and Minor League OF Jake Fraley

The post-Ramos Rays were never going to go into the season with just Nick Ciuffo and Michael Perez behind the dish, so they moved to fix that problem with Zunino, a product of the University of Florida who is under team control for two more years. Zunino comes with some big strengths -- huge raw power, above-average framing ability -- along with a massive strikeout problem (the highest of any hitter with 300 plate appearances) that prevents him from realizing his full value. He's probably an average catcher, all things considered.

The other part of this trade, Minor Leaguers aside, is swapping Heredia for Smith. You can see what the Mariners were going for here: They sent out two years of a good-fielding fourth outfielder in Heredia for four years of Smith, who is coming off a strong .296/.367/.406 season. That's probably the best he can offer and might even be more than he can contribute again, but Seattle has four seasons to figure it out -- or at least until Dipoto trades Smith again.

This is one of the deals that feels extremely fair for both sides, which is probably why it's not all that exciting.

---------------------------------------------

Nov. 1, 2018: RP Trevor Rosenthal signs with Nationals

One year, $7 million, with a $15 million conditional 2020 player option

There was a time where Rosenthal was one of the most feared relievers in baseball, back when he was throwing triple digits and striking out 410 hitters in 302 1/3 innings between 2013-17. Rosenthal injured his elbow back in August 2017, meaning he'll be a full year-and-a-half post-surgery when the season begins, and Washington badly needed depth in front of Sean Doolittle. There's no such thing as a bad one-year deal, especially when the second-year option activates if things have gone well.

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

Rumors: Are Yanks thinking Arenado trade?

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

Are the Yankees targeting Arenado?
Jan. 19: If the Yankees' interest in Manny Machado has petered out, it might be because they have their eyes on another superstar third baseman. A Major League source suggested to SNY's Andy Martino that Nolan Arenado could be a target for New York, either in a trade this offseason or as a free agent after the 2019 campaign.

Citing "people briefed on the Yankees' thinking," Martino reports that general manager Brian Cashman has internally discussed trying to trade for Arenado. Another source said it's likely the Yankees and Rockies have already talked.

However, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post was told there is "no substance" to the report, which suggests the two sides are not currently in contact regarding Arenado.

Tweet from @psaundersdp: Regarding those rumors coming out of NY about #Yankees #Rockies trade for Nolan Arenado... I���m told there is no substance to them. Far fetched.

Bridich has expressed interest in signing Arenado to a long-term extension, but the two sides haven't even been able to agree on a salary for 2019. Arenado and the Rockies exchanged arbitration figures before last week's deadline and are reportedly $6 million apart, as the third baseman is asking for $30 million while Colorado is offering $24 million. That doesn't bode well for the team's chances of working out a long-term deal, as Martino points out.

"It's going to be difficult for Colorado to keep him," one person familiar with the Rockies' situation told Martino.

Although Machado and Bryce Harper are having trouble getting the record-breaking deals they are reportedly seeking, MLB Network Radio's CJ Nitkowski doesn't think Arenado is going to be open to signing a long-term contract with the Rockies now.

"At this point, I can't imagine that he would try to sign any extension, not with a year to go," Nitkowski said. "Even if you're looking out at the market. Wherever the Rockies are right now on any kind of extension, they'll be at the end of the season as well. So there's no reason to take the other 29 teams out of the running."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Have the #Rockies already lost Nolan Arenado to free agency next winter?@CJNitkowski believes it is a strong possibility. pic.twitter.com/eMKHpOVIoT

The Yankees could entice the Rockies by offering a package centered around young third baseman Miguel Andujar, though any trade would likely be contingent on New York signing Arenado to a new contract.

Video: MLB Tonight discusses latest on Arenado negotiations

Red Sox reportedly discussed extension with Bogaerts
Jan. 19: Earlier this month, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports reported that the Red Sox were discussing an extension with an undisclosed core player, and now it's clear who that player was. Multiple sources have confirmed that Boston had talks with shortstop Xander Bogaerts, but the two sides never came close to an agreement, according to Drellich.

At the time of the initial report, Drellich noted that some in the industry were speculating that it was left fielder Andrew Benintendi, but the 24-year-old said Saturday that he hasn't had any extension discussions with the team to this point.

Bogaerts, 26, is one of a number of key Red Sox players who are due to enter free agency in the next two offseasons. Bogaerts, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello can hit the open market after the 2019 season, and Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are eligible the following year. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez can opt out of his contract in 2019 and 2020. Benintendi is under team control for four more seasons.

Sale said Saturday that he is open to talking with Boston about an extension.

"My phone is on if they call me," said Sale. "Obviously nothing has happened up until this point. If they call, I'd answer."

As for Betts, Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said the team would love to have the reigning American League MVP Award winner stay in Boston for his entire career. But Betts knows there are no guarantees in baseball.

"Contract things are kind of tough to come up with, especially with both sides and kind of how the economics and all those things work," Betts said. "I love Boston, love my teammates, love the fans and all those types of things, so we'll just continue to see what happens."

Reds reportedly making progress in pursuit of Yankees' Gray
Jan. 19: The Reds may be close to adding another veteran to their rotation, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports that the club is "getting closer" on a trade for Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray. The Giants, Braves and Brewers remain on the periphery, per Heyman.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Yankees and #Reds are getting closer on a Sonny Gray trade. Teams are talking about two prospects and a draft pick going for Sonny. One of 2B prospect Shed Long and C prospect Tyler Stephenson may go. #SFGiants, Braves, Brewers are on periphery. A deal should happen this weekend.

Heyman adds that the Yankees and Reds are discussing second baseman Shed Long (the Reds' No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), a Draft pick and a second Minor Leaguer going to New York in exchange for Gray, noting that Cincinnati wants to keep catching prospect Tyler Stephenson out of the deal.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: #Reds want to hold catching prospect Tyler Stephenson out of a potential Sonny Gray deal. Now discussions center around 2B prospect Shed Long, a draft choice (sandwich pick) and a 2nd minor leaguer. There���s some optimism but no word it���s done yet.

When the offseason began, it sounded like a foregone conclusion that the Yankees were going to trade Gray. It's taken some time, but this looks to be general manager Brian Cashman's focus at the moment, especially now that New York's bullpen reconstruction is in shape with Adam Ottavino reportedly coming aboard.

Part of the reason the Yankees had been hesitant to go all-in on moving Gray over the past month or so is because CC Sabathia -- whom they re-signed for one year -- underwent an angioplasty in December. The veteran lefty, however, has been cleared to begin workouts and resume baseball activities.

Gray would represent the third notable addition to Cincinnati's rotation this offseason, with the Reds having traded for Tanner Roark and Alex Wood in separate December deals. Like Roark and Wood, Gray can become a free agent after the 2019 campaign. More >

Video: Reds look to trade for Gray to bolster rotation

At least two mystery teams in Machado race
Jan. 19: Just when it seemed like the Phillies and White Sox were the only two teams left in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, at least two more undisclosed clubs have emerged, Major League sources told Andy Martino of SNY.tv.

Machado has personally met with one of the unidentified teams in recent days, and MLB Network insider Jon Heyman has heard that said team has the high bid for the 26-year-old.

Additionally, Martino reports that the Yankees are maintaining contact with Machado's camp, though he notes that New York remains unlikely to sign him. More >

Dodgers showing interest in Pollock
Jan. 19: Although the Dodgers still have a surplus of outfielders after trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds in December, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reports that there is "increasing chatter" about Los Angeles' interest in center fielder A.J. Pollock

Read the latest Pollock rumors here.

Giants gauging trade interest in Longoria
Jan. 19: Slightly more than a year after acquiring him from the Rays, the Giants are reportedly shopping Evan Longoria, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman hears that San Francisco has been gauging trade interest in the third baseman.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Word going around is, #SFGiants have been gauging trade interest in Evan Longoria. Rivals believe it would take big bucks to offset his contract to move him. Has $72.5M to go through 2022 plus $2M assignment bonus if traded (Tampa Bay chipped in $14.5M to trade him last year).

It may be difficult to move him, however, as he is still due to receive an immense amount of money over the next four seasons. As part of the December 2017 trade sending Longoria from Tampa Bay to San Francisco, the Rays picked up $14.5 million of the $88 million in guaranteed money that was still owed to the veteran at that point. He earned $13.5 million in 2018, leaving about $60 million on his deal that isn't being covered by the Rays (including a $5 million buyout on a $13 million team option for 2023).

According to Heyman, rivals believe the Giants would need to eat a significant portion of his salary to have any chance of trading the 33-year-old, who has been a below-average offensive player over the past two seasons (91 wRC+).

Coming off a 73-89 campaign in 2018, the Giants are in a tough spot, as they have several high-priced veterans who are on the decline, significant needs on the big league roster and a lackluster farm system.

Looking at potential suitors for Kimbrel
Jan 19: Craig Kimbrel is the last of the high-end relievers remaining on the free-agent market, as Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Jeurys Familia, Joe Kelly and Adam Ottavino have all signed. Cody Allen is also off the market, leaving one less proven closer out there.

The lack of suitors is mostly due to Kimbrel's price tag, as there's no shortage of teams that could benefit from having the right-hander in their bullpen.

In a story published Friday, MLB.com's David Adler took a look at 13 potential fits for the 30-year-old. Adler named the Red Sox, Phillies and Braves -- the three clubs that have been most often connected to Kimbrel this offseason -- as the favorites. Find out who else made the list here.

Bryant says Harper won't sign with Cubs
Jan. 18: It appears that a scenario that many people -- particularly Cubs fans -- have speculated to be a dream pairing of Bryce Harper with Las Vegas native and close friend Kris Bryant won't happen. At least that's what Bryant said on Friday at the annual Cubs Convention, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. 

Tweet from @MLBastian: Kris Bryant, on Bryce Harper: ���He���s not signing here.��� Said Cubs have a ���killer team��� even without any major additions. Added that he doesn���t talk about the FA process with Harper.

"I know Bryce. I don't know if he's going to be here," Bryant added to NBC Sports Chicago. "But I definitely don't talk to him about it. He's a good friend to me, but I never bring it up to him because I want to be a good friend to him and not talk about baseball when he doesn't want to talk about baseball. 

Tweet from @NBCSChicago: If Bryce Harper isn't joining the Cubs, Kris Bryant wants to smash him every time they play! pic.twitter.com/T0dE72J9Em

"If he doesn't come here, I know we're going to want to smash him every time we play him."

Harper has stirred the social media realm in recent years by poking at the possibility of joining Bryant and the Cubs when his long-awaited free agency began to manifest. But now with that time here, Harper signing with the Cubs appears less and less likely. Specifically, Chicago has publicly claimed that it does not have the financial bandwidth to take on another megacontract, especially with the club already projected to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. Harper reportedly rejected a 10-year, $300 million deal from the Nationals at the end of the regular season. 

Bryant and Harper have been close friends since they were children, having grown up through the competitive ranks in Las Vegas, and they regularly spend time with each other during the offseason. In December, they both attended a Nelly concert together, and they also spent New Years Eve with each other. 

Bryant went on to say that he's surprised that the free-agent market has been quite slow to develop -- particularly at the top with Harper and star shortstop Manny Machado, as ESPN's Jesse Rogers shared on Friday. Harper and Machado have both been linked to the White Sox and Phillies, but beyond that, the Nats are the only team known to have significant interest in Harper and the Yankees are among a very small handful of teams pursuing Machado. 

Tweet from @ESPNChiCubs: Kris Bryant, on Harper and Machado: ���Its weird. It���s really weird. Two of the best players in the game and they have very little interest in them, from just what I hear. It's not good. Its something that will have to change. I know a lot of the other players are upset about it.���

Video: Bryant discusses Harper and his own health in 2019

Manny seen wearing a Sox cap; does it mean anything?
Jan. 18: Is Manny Machado leaning toward signing with the White Sox? With the Phillies reportedly turning their focus to fellow 26-year-old superstar Bryce Harper after meeting with him in Las Vegas last week, and the Yankees signing yet another infielder in DJ LeMahieu, it appears Chicago may be the favorite to land Machado. The White Sox have reportedly made a seven-year, $175 million offer, though that has been disputed by Machado's agent, Dan Lozano.

While it may be a clue, or may be nothing at all, Machado was seen wearing a White Sox cap while taking batting practice with brother-in-law and White Sox first baseman Yonder Alonso on Friday. The website 12up reports that this took place in Miami.

Tweet from @12upSport: Yeah this definitely looks like Manny Machado wearing a White Sox hat and trying to hide it pic.twitter.com/nvtQUyAqIt

Machado and Harper are the two premier free agents this offseason, a pair of superstar sluggers under 27 years old on the open market, which can be a rarity. Both are reportedly looking to break the record for largest contract in MLB history, currently held by Giancarlo Stanton, who inked a 13-year, $325 million pact with the Marlins in 2014.

Could Kimbrel sign 1-year deal with Red Sox?
Jan. 18: The pool of free-agent relief options is becoming shallower by the day, and the Red Sox have a clear need at the back of their bullpen as they prepare to start their title defense. So in theory, re-signing Craig Kimbrel makes perfect sense.

But on Thursday, for at least the third time this offseason, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski indicated that he doesn't expect to invest big money in the closer spot.

It's understandable, as Boston needs to be cognizant of the luxury-tax threshold -- the club would face steeper penalties for exceeding it by more than $40 million for the second straight season -- as well as the fact that many key players are set to hit free agency soon.

That said, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal suggests a one-year deal for Kimbrel could work if the Red Sox aren't concerned about the luxury-tax penalties. A one-year contract would allow Boston to return with mostly the same roster as the one that won the World Series in 2018, but wouldn't hinder the club's ability to operate as Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. enter free agency over the next two offseasons.

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand previously predicted Kimbrel would return to the Red Sox on a one-year deal and noted that the right-hander could be open to it because the relief market won't be nearly as strong 11 months from now.

The Phillies loom as a team that could extend a lucrative multiyear offer to Kimbrel, but they aren't expected to make any more major transactions before the Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado situations are resolved. As a result, Kimbrel will likely continue to wait.

Sale healthy, open to potential extension talks

At Winter Weekend, lefty encouraged by workouts, eyes another ring
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- When last you saw Chris Sale, he was putting away Manny Machado, who fell to one knee, to end the World Series with about the most wicked slider humanly possible. But in the days and weeks leading up to that, you saw a lefty ace who was trying to get his full health back after an unsettling bout of left shoulder inflammation.

So when it comes to encouraging developments at Red Sox Winter Weekend, the fact that Sale is a full go again and feeling great about where he's at with his shoulder is at or near the top of the list.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- When last you saw Chris Sale, he was putting away Manny Machado, who fell to one knee, to end the World Series with about the most wicked slider humanly possible. But in the days and weeks leading up to that, you saw a lefty ace who was trying to get his full health back after an unsettling bout of left shoulder inflammation.

So when it comes to encouraging developments at Red Sox Winter Weekend, the fact that Sale is a full go again and feeling great about where he's at with his shoulder is at or near the top of the list.

"Good, really good," said Sale on Saturday. "I've been working out at JetBlue the entire offseason, going up there four or five days a week and training, so we have a good setup going."

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

While Sale is always a focal point with the Red Sox, it will have an added element in 2019 because the lanky lefty is eligible for free agency after the season.

Would Sale talk extension with the club before that?

"My phone is on if they call me," said Sale. "Obviously nothing has happened up until this point. If they call, I'd answer."

Tweet from @RedSox: The kind of greeting Chris Sale should receive every time he walks into a room. 👏👏👏#SoxWinterWeekend pic.twitter.com/GlOGS8EZ0w

Sale doesn't think that the specter of free agency will have any impact on his preparation or performance for 2019.

"I'm not doing anything different," Sale said. "Just more of the same. I think for me personally, I just keep doing what I've always done. I've never really paid attention to stats or numbers or dollars and cents and all this other stuff. I just look at the left and right column and try and get more in the left than the right.

"My goals, my mindset, my everything doesn't change. I just keep playing baseball, and we'll either figure it out over the next couple months or figure it out in a few months. One or the other."

The key to Sale's short- and long-term success is the strength of his left shoulder, which betrayed him starting in late July of last season.

Sale is doing everything he can to make sure there's no repeat of that in '19.

"I've been playing catch for a couple of months and doing some things to strengthen my shoulder in the training room, but also doing some motions in the weight room to strengthen the shoulder and stuff like that," said Sale. "It's been good. Everything has been going well."

All Sale needs to do to feel the difference in his health is to play catch.

"Obviously I felt normal again, being able to throw free and easy and feel loose and kind of have that whip back; it's obviously a nice feeling," Sale said. "We're just kind of building up with a normal offseason and getting ready for Spring Training."

Video: WS2018 Gm5: Sale thrilled on winning first WS

For the first time in his career, Sale will enter Spring Training already having won a World Series. How does that change things for him?

"Instead of winning [one] World Series, I want to win another one," Sale said. "Nothing changes. My wife asked me that same question. You work your entire life to achieve this goal, so what do you do once you achieve it? I said, 'You do it again.' It's why we sign up. You win once and you want to keep winning, and when you don't win, all you want to do is win. Our goal is to continue to keep winning games and win a couple of those trophies."

To get another one, the Red Sox will need a lot more wipeout sliders from Sale, who did get a few chances to look at the ones that ended the 2018 baseball season at Dodger Stadium.

"I've watched it maybe a couple hundred thousand times," quipped Sale. "It never gets old. Those last few, even just watching kind of the highlights from the entire series, it's really special. It's cool. I've worked my entire life, and we as a team worked from Day 1 of Spring Training to get there. And we got it. It was everything you can dream of."

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

Boston Red Sox, Chris Sale

Red Sox CEO: We want Betts in Boston for life

Reigning AL MVP's contract runs through 2020 season
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Superstar Mookie Betts has become the face of the Red Sox, and there's strong sentiment at the highest levels of the organization for that to be the case for many years to come.

Betts can be a free agent after the 2020 season, but the Red Sox have made it clear multiple times at Winter Weekend that they hope it never gets to that point.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Superstar Mookie Betts has become the face of the Red Sox, and there's strong sentiment at the highest levels of the organization for that to be the case for many years to come.

Betts can be a free agent after the 2020 season, but the Red Sox have made it clear multiple times at Winter Weekend that they hope it never gets to that point.

"He's the exact type of player you want to have on your team," Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said. "Not just from what he does on the field, but off the field. He's such a great person and we'd love to have him be a Red Sox for his entire career."

Betts would love that also, but he knows that there are no guarantees when it comes to the business of baseball.

"Contract things are kind of tough to come up with, especially with both sides and kind of how the economics and all those things work," Betts said. "I love Boston, love my teammates, love the fans and all those types of things, so we'll just continue to see what happens."

What happened this winter is that the sides did what they couldn't last offseason and avoided an arbitration hearing. Betts instead signed a one-year, $20 million contract, which represented a raise of $9.5 million.

"I mean, those things are kind of tough. I'm happy with the result," Betts said. "Now, it's just time to play baseball."

Video: Betts signs record deal to avoid arbitration

And few can play it at the same level of Betts, who is a force in every way possible on both sides of the ball and just won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.

For that reason, it's easy to see why the thought of him playing anywhere else is nauseating to the Red Sox.

"You certainly understand, you try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, he's going to want to see what the market looks like and we understand that," Kennedy said. "But we've made it crystal clear that we want him a part of the Red Sox organization long term. We were chatting last night, I don't know why a player would ever want to play anywhere else other than Boston.

"That comes from a very biased person. I'm a Bostonian. But you look around at the fan support, you look at this ownership group. The commitment to winning, the great history and tradition. Talk to a lot of alums who have been here and gone other places. And I just think a lot of them wish they had stayed in Boston and finished their careers here. We're now approaching a 20-year run of an era in Boston sports unlike any other in the history of professional sports. This is where you want to be."

Betts appreciates hearing how much the club would like to keep him beyond 2020.

"Yeah, it means a lot," Betts said. "I've done something well, obviously, and I have the utmost respect for those guys. They're great people. Just to be able to put on the uniform in general is a blessing, and when it says Red Sox on it, it makes it that much better."

It has been a whirlwind offseason for Betts. Just a week after winning the World Series, his first child (a girl) was born.

"It's a lot. You know, I think it's just another responsibility. She's another responsibility you have to take care of. Can't just worry about yourself," Betts said. "So it kind of teaches you perspective . Now I have a new perspective on life and taking care of things. Just have to try and find a way to get some sleep. That's going to be the most important thing right now."

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

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts