The quiet of December now leads to the frenzy of January.
Baseball’s holiday vacation is just about over and now the real hot stove season is about to begin.
The biggest names in free agency and on the trade front are still in play.
Here are the potential January stories:
1. The prize is Manny Machado. You have to give up a lot of good players to get him and then you have to feel confident you can sign him. During the 10 days prior to the holidays teams made offers. Then the music stopped. As far as we know, the Cubs came the closest to getting it done. They reportedly offered shortstop Addison Russell, center fielder Albert Almora Jr., and lefthander Mike Montgomery. If Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer can add one more pitching prospect, this deal could get done. This would help the Orioles’ pitching issues, and give them a young veteran shortstop and a future center fielder, which would allow them to move Adam Jones to left or right. But let’s not limit this to the Cubs. The Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Braves, White Sox, Nationals, Phillies, and Cardinals could all package something to get this done.
2. Who gets J.D. Martinez? He’s the premier power hitter on the market. His name is mostly embedded with the Red Sox. That’s where agent Scott Boras would love to place him, but currently the negotiating game is being played. Boras wants his figure — seven years, $210 million — but the Red Sox don’t like contracts over five years for positional players. Who else might get involved? We always suspect the Giants being interested in an elite offensive player, though they traded for Evan Longoria and their need is more for a center fielder. We suspect the Phillies because they have money. You never know what the Blue Jays will do. The Rockies? And the Yankees. They wouldn’t, would they?
3. Who signs Jake Arrieta? Do the Cubs let the market play out and then jump back in and try to re-sign him or are they looking for something new — say Yu Darvish? The Yankees are in need of a starter. The Twins are trying to think big, as are the Brewers. And the Rangers are also looking for one more significant pitcher.
4. Darvish and Arrieta are 1 and 1A. Both Texas teams — the Rangers and Astros — seem to have interest. American League opponents would be very scared about the Astros signing a pitcher of that caliber, but it’s a definite possibility.
5. Eric Hosmer is the premier lefthanded hitter on the market and the youngest top free agent at age 28. Yet you don’t hear much interest on his front. There’s speculation the Royals have a legitimate shot at re-signing him, but if they’re truly rebuilding why would they? We look at the Cardinals, even after they’ve traded for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, and we must take the Padres’ interest seriously.
6. You see spots for third baseman Mike Moustakas but not a lot of discussion. Could he wind up in Baltimore if Machado is traded or moves full time to shortstop? The Mets, Braves, Cardinals, and Yankees are all potential destinations.
7. The Yankees are hot in pursuit of Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole. They have the prospects to give the Pirates (not named Gleyber Torres), but we’ve got to believe other teams such as the Phillies, Rangers, Astros, Orioles, and Nationals are at least interested in making a deal.
8. We’ve almost grown tired of speculating on Tampa Bay righthander Chris Archer, but his trade could happen in January. After trading the face of the franchise in Longoria, it means the Rays are not going to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees. Archer’s old bosses (manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman) reside in Chicago (Cubs) and Los Angeles (Dodgers), so there’s two potential suitors. Add the Yankees, Twins, Astros, and Rangers to the mix. Archer will be in demand, but sometimes acquiring Tampa Bay players can be perilous (see Carl Crawford and David Price).
9. Not sure I buy that the Diamondbacks will be able to trade Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA), but they’ll listen to offers and gauge what percentage of Greinke’s remaining $138.5 million contract they’ll assume. There would be a limited market.
10. The Marlins are probably not through dumping their assets, and left fielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto are likely the next to go. Yelich will have wide appeal as a center fielder who has a reasonable contract. Realmuto is seen as a good all-around catcher who can hit for power. No Gary Sanchez, for sure, but catchers who can hit homers are in demand. The natural fit is Washington, where Matt Wieters has been more of a defensive liability than an asset. Here’s the other thing to consider with the Marlins: They’re probably going to be involved in signing cheap free agents because they really don’t have younger players to plug into their major league team. Don’t be surprised if guys such as Jose Bautista land there as a place where they can revive their careers and possibly be used as trade chips at midseason.
11. In an interesting development, the Rockies opted for Wade Davis rather than re-sign Greg Holland, a Boras client who had a great year in Colorado. There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut place for Holland, but Boras is great at creating a market.
12. The second-tier pitching market should heat up. The most prominent are Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, both of whom should get great deals. There’s no doubt the Orioles and Twins are very interested in one or both, but those unwilling to dabble in the elite pitcher market could benefit from the second tier.
13. The free agent outfield market is still fertile with good players such as
Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jon Jay leading the pack. The Blue Jays have been interested in Bruce since last season’s trade deadline but haven’t pulled the trigger even though Bruce is exactly what they need. Gonzalez has had an excellent career in Colorado and the wonder has always been how he would fare away from Coors Field. That’s what holds a few teams back. Cain is interesting in that while still speedy and a good center fielder, how long will he be effective at that position? That’s what teams such as the Giants must ponder. Jay is a terrific team guy and good overall player.
14. The outfield trade market is also intriguing. The Reds’ Billy Hamilton is being pursued by the Giants, but the question is what the Giants have to give back. It’s the same dilemma the Giants have in considering Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen and Yelich. Texas would love to get rid of Shin-Soo Choo, but he’s owed $62 million. Jacoby Ellsbury is the other high-profile outfielder that’s going to be hard to deal, having a balance of $68 million.
15. The non-closer relief market still has a lot left. It’s surprising Addison Reed hasn’t been signed yet, but Reed is trying to get that Andrew Miller-type deal of four years at maybe $9 million per. If he can’t get that, the Red Sox may want to get back in the hunt for him as he was very effective for them.
16. The Angels, perhaps the most improved team this offseason, may make first baseman C.J. Cron available if they decide to have Albert Pujols play a lot of first base to accommodate Shohei Ohtani’s DH at-bats. The problem is the Angels need to know if Pujols can handle the workload. Cron has been a platoon player who has hit 16 homers each of the last three seasons.
17. In the Fat Chance Department: The Reds should move Joey Votto, but they won’t. Votto is a tremendous hitter who has another $157 million due him. Also, the Tigers would love to move Miguel Cabrera (another $184 million). As Brad Ausmus, the former Tigers manager and now special adviser to the Angels, told me, he thinks Cabrera has a lot left as a dominant hitter in the league if he can be 100 percent healthy.
18. In pitching dump-offs, the White Sox will try to move James Shields, who had a bit of a revival over his last few starts in 2017. His season and a half in Chicago wasn’t good (5.99 ERA) after a nice career in Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Padres are still paying about $11 million of his $21 million salary for this year and then there’s a $2 million buyout. Shields, who once went nine straight years of 200-plus innings, was 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA in five September starts. Another potential dump is Detroit’s Jordan Zimmermann, who has not lived up to his contract mostly because of a neck injury that he feels is under control. Zimmermann has $74 million remaining on his deal.
19. Can someone please sign Ichiro Suzuki? He’s 44 but a tremendous athlete who can still contribute as an extra outfielder. Ichiro, who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, still has speed at his age. Agent John Boggs may also be considering a return to Japan for his client.
20. If Dave Dombrowski is looking for a veteran pitcher to stash until needed, he could do what he did with Doug Fister. There are guys like that such as Anibal Sanchez, a former Dombrowski employee; Clay Buchholz, who is coming back from shoulder surgery; and Jeremy Hellickson, who may not get a guaranteed deal. We can add Bartolo Colon, 44, to the list.
21. If third baseman Josh Donaldson is indeed available, he’ll have a lot of interest. The Cardinals have the pitching prospects Toronto would want, but there are plenty of other teams who could have interest, including the Braves and general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the former Blue Jays GM who obtained Donaldson from the A’s.
22. There’s also a utility player market that should develop. Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison, Boston’s Brock Holt, and free agents Eduardo Nunez and Howie Kendrick should become priorities. The Pirates have been gauging interest in All-Star Harrison, who could be a fit for the Yankees at second base or third. Holt could be expendable as the Red Sox are trying to groom Blake Swihart, who is out of options, for that role. Kendrick has always been a good hitter and can play second, third, and left field.
23. Realmuto, as we’ve pointed out, will garner interest to fill teams’ catching needs. There is a report the Red Sox might be one of the teams, but that doesn’t seem to make sense, though the Sox could make Sandy Leon available if they feel Swihart could handle the backup catching role. Free agent Jonathan Lucroy, who had an off year offensively, is also someone who could be an asset for a team’s catching tandem. The Rockies may re-sign him.
24. How about the secondary slugger market? That’s where you’ll find Logan Morrison, Mark Reynolds, Todd Frazier, and Bautista, among others. The Rockies would like to re-sign Reynolds. Frazier might be able to solve third base issues with the Mets or Braves or return to the Yankees. Morrison, who hit 38 bombs for Tampa Bay, hasn’t had as big a market as hoped. Mike Napoli’s leadership and power could get him a job in Minnesota, where former Texas assistant GM Thad Levine, now GM in the Twin Cities, is familiar with Napoli’s work.
25. As far as teams to watch, the Indians always do some interesting things and they could definitely improve their offense, especially now with the loss of Carlos Santana to the Phillies.
Apropos of nothing
1. Commissioner Rob Manfred is open to a conversation about sports betting. He told Yahoo! Sports Finance this past week, “We are reexamining our stance on gambling. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing with the owners.” The feeling is legalized betting on baseball could draw more fans to the sport. “Sports betting happens,” Manfred said. “Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there. So I think the question for sports is really, ‘Are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition . . . or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling?’ And that’s a debatable point.”
2. Tickets for the annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner on Thursday, Jan. 18, can be had through Ashley Walenta at 617-624-1231 or through sportsmuseum.org. Guest list so far includes Tim Wakefield, Christian Vazquez, Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Workman, Brian Johnson, Robby Scott, Jack McCormick, Alex Cora, Dave Dombrowski, Chad Bettis, and Phyllis Merhige.
3. You know what’s interesting? Craig Kimbrel’s potential future with the Red Sox. He’s a free agent after this coming season. He’s the only closer with 30-plus saves each of the last seven years. Since 2011, Kimbrel has recorded 290 saves. The next best is the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen with 226. Do the Sox negotiate with him now, or will they let it play out? Interesting dilemma.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The diminishing returns of Josh Donaldson: In 2015, Donaldson hit .297 with 41 homers and 123 RBIs. In 2016, Donaldson hit .284 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs. In 2017, he hit .270 with 33 homers and 78 RBIs.” . . . Also, “There were 992 first-pitch homers allowed last season, the most on any count. The Astros hit the most with 55; the Red Sox hit the fewest with 17.” . . . Happy birthday, Rick Aguilera (56).