It’s down to the final days before the start of the regular season, a time when team executives and their staffs make those last-minute decisions on the roster.
Some are thinking big, others are thinking small.
According to one major league source, the main name out there who could be traded before Opening Day is White Sox lefthander Jose Quintana. “Could be” is the key phrase because the White Sox are not backing down from their demands of getting a quality package not much different than the one they acquired from the Red Sox for Chris Sale.
Should Quintana warrant the same package as Sale?
“If you’re the White Sox, the answer is yes,” said one American League executive. “Rick Hahn should get a premium for him because in many respects he’s been even a bit more consistent than Sale over the years. You really know what you’re getting with Quintana. He’s a top-of-the-rotation guy, 28 years old, and he’s under a reasonable contract.”
White Sox officials are saying that Quintana won’t be going anywhere if the packages being offered don’t improve. They have no problem holding on to him for as long as they need to. That could be until the trading deadline or even longer than that.
Quintana is signed until 2020 at salaries that start at $7 million this year and top out at $11.5 million in a team option for 2020.
The Astros seem to be the team most engaged, though according to one White Sox source, nothing is imminent. Most baseball folks agree that the Astros could win the AL West if they had someone such as Quintana at the beginning of their rotation. The Astros have one of the best lineups in the AL.
The hang-up has been the Astros’ reluctance to part with righthanded pitching prospect Francis Martes.
“[The White Sox] know what they want and they’re not budging,” said one rival AL general manager. “They got great results on Adam Eaton and Sale. If they can make one more big deal for that type of a package they’ve really set themselves up for quite a team down the road.”
The Yankees, Pirates, Braves, and Dodgers have either made inquiries or discussed Quintana internally. Braves president of baseball operations John Hart doesn’t think he’s ready to make a move of that magnitude for his rebuilding team.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” he said. “We signed three one-year guys [Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia]. We did that because we do have the new stadium and all of the above. We’re still growing this team. Our whole mantra has been young players. It’s worked. We like where we’ve gone. Our farm system has gone from worst to first. At this point we’re probably likely not going to move these guys.”
The Yankees and Pirates have said they won’t give up the prospects the White Sox are seeking. The Red Sox traded them Yoan Moncada, who could make the White Sox out of the gate as he’s had a solid spring training (.317, 3 home runs, 13 RBIs in 41 at-bats). The sleeper team could be the Dodgers, who may need another quality starter and have the chips to make it happen.
The White Sox also have other pieces that would pique interest. One is closer David Robertson. Most baseball folks thought he’d be with the Nationals by now, but Washington president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo has resisted giving up touted catching prospect Pedro Severino. Without Severino, the White Sox likely wouldn’t be interested. The Nationals are leaning toward offering a combination of Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover, and Blake Treinen.
The White Sox also could move third baseman Todd Frazier, who could help the offense of a few teams. Frazier, who can become a free agent after this season, had 40 homers with 98 RBIs last season but hit only .225. The low batting average has turned off some, but his power and production can’t be denied, as well as his above-average defense and clubhouse presence. Some teams still need a clubhouse leader and Frazier, who earns $12 million, would bring that.
The White Sox also have left fielder Melky Cabrera, who could be a valuable piece.
“We will listen to anyone that calls,” said White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams.
The Royals are another team to watch, but the early season seems too premature to unload major players such as first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, all free agents after this season.
One team the Royals are watching in terms of Hosmer with their first base situation is the Red Sox, depending upon how well Mitch Moreland performs. The Red Sox, however, are eyeing Sam Travis as their future first baseman.
The Braves are rebuilding and have veterans such as right fielder Nick Markakis who could go in a deal, though the Braves aren’t looking necessarily to deal him.
“Nick is a good piece. He’s a super pro player,” said Hart. “He’s a valuable piece for us, but we’ll see. We haven’t really entertained anything on our guys. We’ll look at what happens this year, but he’s an affordable guy.”
The Twins don’t appear to be going anywhere, so would they offer No. 1 starter Ervin Santana to a contending team? Sure, you always think you’re going to be better than the pundits say, but in the Twins’ case, are they better off continuing to add to their young player arsenal?
The Tigers could seek an upgrade in center field, the Athletics have a need for another starter, the Yankees need a shortstop after losing Didi Gregorius to a shoulder injury in the World Baseball Classic, and the Giants could use a left fielder, though they are trying to fill that job internally.
Apropos of something
1. Will Bryce Harper get the $300 million-$400 million deal that some are projecting? The Nationals still have two years of control and Harper certainly would have to exceed last year’s production, although we assume that was an outlier. Harper is an extremely marketable player and his bat and overall play make him a game-changer. But take note that hitter salaries seem to be coming down. At least they did last offseason. Edwin Encarnacion was supposed to be paid much better than the three-year, $60 million deal he accepted from Cleveland.
2. Nationals special assistant Bobby Schaefer, a long-time coach, manager, and scout in pro baseball, thinks the coaches’ box should be relocated. He thinks the first base box should be behind first base rather than parallel to it so if the ball goes through the infield, the coach is still in front of the runner and can instruct him to take the turn and maybe go to second. He thinks the third base box should be between third and home, so the coach can be in front of the runner. All of which makes sense. So, why did Major League Baseball implement a rule that says coaches need to stay in the box until the pitch is thrown?
3. Jim Leyland did a fabulous job managing Team USA to the World Baseball Classic championship. Really wish there was more national pride in the event. We can argue when it’s best for the tournament to be played, but in reality, now is the best time. It’s when players are amping up for the season. Players have said that after the World Series wouldn’t be good because players want time off after a long season. The All-Star break poses its own problems because you’d have to take a midseason recess and start the season early or have it go late. Commissioner Rob Manfred deemed the event a success, and he’s right. It broke attendance records, TV ratings were decent, the games were played with passion and excitement. Yet it didn’t have an afterglow for fans.
4. I’ve often said that someday Theo Epstein will be a Democratic senator from Massachusetts or Illinois, and he’ll one day run for president and win. Far-fetched? Some thought it far-fetched that Fortune Magazine just named Epstein the “world’s greatest leader.” But think about it. What multibillion-dollar corporation has had an executive that has been more impressive than Epstein? That was Forbes’s thinking. Epstein is not an owner such as Bill and Melinda Gates but rather the executive most responsible for the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought. In other words, Epstein took a hamburger shack and turned it into McDonald’s. Epstein has downplayed it, saying we’re talking about a sports team. But it’s a storied sports team worth $2 billion-$3 billion.
5. Hingham High School will soon be hosting a baseball team from Tennoji High School in Osaka, Japan. Thirty-five players and four coaches are scheduled to arrive Sunday for a weeklong exchange that will conclude with a game at 2 p.m. on April 1, and a closing ceremony that will feature a screening of the documentary “Kokoyakyu,” which helped to inspire the project. Hingham assistant principal and junior varsity baseball coach Rick Swanson was at the forefront of this project, which promotes the sportsmanship and bonding, inspired by baseball, between teenagers from the two countries.
Apropos of nothing
1. Former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan, who has been seen at JetBlue Park this spring, thinks Boston has what it takes to win it all. He likes their pitching “if [David] Price is OK” and he loves the ability of the younger players. Morgan is particularly intrigued by Blake Swihart and his athleticism behind the plate, and by the fact he hits well from both sides of the plate. The skipper is usually right about these things.
2. I really like Red Sox third base prospect Rafael Devers’s bat speed and eye at the plate, but he really needs to be careful about his body. The hope is as he matures so will his body, which can get a tad flabby.
3. If you want to get a smile from Steven Wright, after he pitches ask him what pitch worked for him. I also asked him recently if his fastball velocity was where he wanted it to be. He said, “If I care about my fastball velocity I’ve got a lot of other problems.”
4. The old City of Palms Park in downtown Fort Myers, which was one of the nicest spring training homes, pretty much sits alone, with only a few college games being played there. Meanwhile, a recent drive through Winter Haven, a city that has changed drastically since 1992 when the Red Sox left, revealed that Chain O’ Lakes Park and practice fields are still intact and well kept. College tournaments and high school games are played there. The infamous Christie’s Restaurant, where everyone hung out, is now called Manny’s Steakhouse. But I was warmed by the fact that Andy’s Igloo, with its fabulous shakes and burgers, is still going strong, albeit under new ownership.
5. President of baseball operations John Hart said the spring training plan for the Braves is to move to North Port, which is just north of Fort Myers and Port Charlotte, by 2019. Hart said the team will stay at Disney World for one more season. He said negotiations with North Port are “close to a conclusion.” Hart emphasized “We love Disney.” But the Braves have to make long trips to travel to areas such as West Palm, which has four teams, Port St. Lucie, Clearwater/Dunedin, and Fort Myers.
Updates on nine
1. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Reds — It’s looking more likely that Arroyo is going to be able to make it back from elbow and shoulder surgeries that had put his career on hold for two years. Arroyo has thrown well in camp and will start the season in the rotation or in extended spring training and be added later. “If I do well in my last two starts and my arm is healthy, I should be home free,” he said. Arroyo just turned 40, and while his fastball is in the usual range (83-86 miles per hour), he still knows how to pitch and get hitters out.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers — This extraordinary hitter has back tightness as a result of playing in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela. Cabrera felt the back “pop’’ in his first game in Mexico but continued to play. Upon his return to the Tigers, Cabrera felt he needed to rest, and that’s what he’s doing. “I want my back to be better before I play,” said Cabrera, who gets daily treatment. The Tigers don’t seem worried. Cabrera has had little injury issues the past few years but always manages to get through them and put up 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs.
3. Michael Brantley, OF, Indians — Certainly there’s progress with Brantley’s recovery from two shoulder surgeries, but the Indians still have no idea about how durable he will be after recently beginning to play in exhibition games. The Indians won the American League without Brantley last season, but they were hoping to get back who they always considered their best player. That’s still in doubt.
4. Matt Szczur, OF, Cubs — The battle between Szczur and Tommy La Stella for the 25th spot is intriguing. The Cubs love what Szczur did last season as an extra capable of playing all three outfield positions. He proved to be a valuable pinch hitter with speed. He’s also out of options and the Cubs would hate to lose him because they feel he would get picked up on waivers. La Stella would be an extra infielder, but with Javier Baez able to jump around the infield, do the Cubs really need him? It’s one of those “nice decisions” great teams such as the Cubs need to make.
5. Raul Mondesi Jr., 2B, Royals — Mondesi seems to be Kansas City’s second baseman to start the season. No official announcement has been made, but the Royals, who may dismantle their team by the trading deadline, want the future to get going, and Mondesi has shown nothing is too big for him.
6. Sergio Romo, RHP, Dodgers — One red flag with the Dodgers’ signing of Romo to be a setup man is that he came from the Giants, where executive vice president Brian Sabean is rarely wrong when he lets a player go. Romo came back from the WBC with a sore back. We’ll see if this is a problem that lingers.
7. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Dodgers — It may not be long before Bellinger hits LA. While Bellinger hasn’t had a great spring training, an iffy Dodgers outfield and/or prolonged time off by Adrian Gonzalez, who is dealing with elbow tendinitis, could mean playing time for Bellinger. Bellinger would be a target of the White Sox if the Dodgers got into the Jose Quintana sweepstakes, but the Dodgers may need an outfield upgrade now with Andre Ethier hurt and the talent pool in the outfield one of LA’s liabilities.
8. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers — The slugger will start the season on the disabled list. Perhaps the only benefit is that out-of-option players such as Steven Moya, Tyler Collins, and infielder Dixon Machado could now make the team.
9. Chris Carter, 1B, Yankees — The team isn’t alarmed by Carter’s miserable spring training, and now that Greg Byrd will be the Opening Day first baseman Carter will have time to get his swing together working strictly as a role player. Half of Carter’s 44 spring at-bats have been strikeouts, and he’s hitting just .136. Very ugly, but the Yankees feel once he straightens it out he’ll become a big righthanded power source.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Getting your money’s worth: The average time of an AL game in 2016 was 3:01. The games played in Oakland were the shortest at 2:52, the games played at Fenway were the longest at 3:14.” . . . Also, “In 2016, Adam Wainwright, Collin McHugh, and David Price led the majors with five games allowing 10-plus hits. That total is one more 10-plus-hit game allowed by Clayton Kershaw in his entire career.” . . . Happy birthday (Saturday), Mike Nagy (69).
Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report. Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.