Final Predictions for 2018 MLB Winter Meetings’ Top Free-Agent Signings, Trades

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Final Predictions for 2018 MLB Winter Meetings’ Top Free-Agent Signings, Trades

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The annual MLB winter meetings are upon us, and after an unusually busy month of November on both the free-agent market and the trade block, expect plenty more action this week.

    As the baseball world converges on Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, the pitching market is already in full swing. Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi have signed new deals, while James Paxton was shipped from Seattle to New York in a blockbuster trade.

    Will the dominos continue to fall as rumors swirl around J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel and others?

    As for position players, Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto remains a popular name in trade talks, while marquee free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are still mulling their options. Will those two make decisions, or will things drag out through the offseason?

    Ahead are our best guesses at the eight biggest moves that will be made this week.

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    To CIN: RHP Sonny Gray

    The New York Yankees have been looking to deal Sonny Gray since the start of the offseason, when general manager Brian Cashman didn’t mince words while talking to reporters.

    “It hasn’t worked out thus far,” Cashman said. “I think he’s extremely talented. We’ll enter the winter, unfortunately, open-minded to a relocation. To maximize his abilities, it would be more likely best [for him to be] somewhere else.”

    With multiple teams showing interest, the winter meetings could be a time for the Yankees to weigh the offers on the table and finally make a swap.

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported in November the Cincinnati Reds were one interested party, and Gray could be the perfect low-risk, high-reward move for a team on the rise.

    Gray, 29, struggled to a 4.90 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 130.1 innings last season. His home-road splits provide some reason for optimism that a change of scenery could do wonders.

  • Home: 59.1 IP, 6.98 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 6.8 K/9
  • Road: 71.0 IP, 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.9 K/9

Gray is projected to earn $9.1 million in his final year of arbitration and should be motivated to right the ship.

   

To NYY: LHP Scott Moss, RHP Alex Powers

One year away from free agency, Gray shouldn’t cost a ton to acquire. The Yankees will be happy with a couple of mid-level prospects and some salary relief.

Left-hander Scott Moss (15-4, 3.68 ERA, 112 K, 132.0 IP at High-A) is a high-floor starter who could be ready to fill a spot at the back of the rotation by 2020.

Reliever Alex Powers (39 G, 18 SV, 2.34 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11.7 K/9 at Double-A) took a step forward in his second year at Pensacola and then struck out 15 batters in 10.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League.

It’s not a huge return, but it would bring back two solid organizational depth pieces to the Yankees.

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    To LAD: C Francisco Cervelli

    The Los Angeles Dodgers could use a stopgap starter at the catcher position with Yasmani Grandal expected to sign elsewhere in free agency.

    Prospects Keibert Ruiz, Will Smith and Connor Wong are capable of developing into MLB starters, so the team won’t want to block their paths to the big leagues by giving a long-term contract to a veteran.

    Devin Mesoraco, Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters are among the free-agent options who could be available on one-year deals, but the perfect fit could be Pittsburgh Pirates trade chip Francisco Cervelli.

    As Buster Olney of ESPN wrote, “the Dodgers, Astros and Mets are all in the market for catching help, and if one of those teams makes an offer on catcher Francisco Cervelli, the Pirates will listen.”

    Cervelli, 32, posted a 123 OPS+ while slugging a career-high 12 home runs in 404 plate appearances and throwing out 39.0 percent of base stealers last season, though he did miss some time with a concussion.

    He’s owed $11.5 million in the final year of his contract, and his two-way skills could make him the perfect bridge to those rising prospects.

       

    To PIT: RP Marshall Kasowski

    More than anything, the Pirates will be looking for salary relief in a trade of Cervelli—he’s the highest-paid player on their roster for 2019. So if the Dodgers are willing to pay the entirety of his salary, it won’t take much more than a flier prospect to swing a deal.

    Marshall Kasowski was a 13th-round pick in 2017, and in his first full pro season, he posted a 2.09 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 111 strikeouts in 64.2 innings over three minor league levels. He closed the year with 10 appearances at Double-A and could be ready for a role in the big league bullpen in 2019.

    This is how MLB.com assessed the 23-year-old righty: “Kasowski has continued to miss bats at an exceptional rate since turning pro, doing so with basically one pitch. He challenges hitters with a 91-97 mph fastball that seems to rise at the plate. He throws over the top, a la Josh Collmenter, and opponents have trouble picking up his heater because it seems to come straight out of his ear.”

    The Pirates could then turn to Elias Diaz as their primary backstop after he posted a 116 OPS+ with 12 doubles and 10 home runs in 277 plate appearances in 2018.

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Terms: Two years, $30 million

    Despite a 103-win season, the Houston Astros took a step backward offensively last season:

  • 2017: 896 R (1st in MLB), 238 HR (2nd in MLB), .823 OPS (1st in MLB)
  • 2018: 797 R (6th in MLB), 205 HR (T-10th in MLB), .754 OPS (7th in MLB)

That could make adding a power bat a priority this offseason, and Nelson Cruz has been one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball over the past five seasons.

During that time, he’s posted a 145 OPS+ while averaging 41 home runs and 104 RBI.

So far this offseason, Cruz has been linked to the Astros, Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred.

With Marwin Gonzalez potentially departing in free agency, the Astros could opt to move Yuli Gurriel into a super-utility role. That would open up the first base job for Tyler White—who posted a .901 OPS with 10 home runs and 39 RBI after the All-Star break—and leave the designated hitter spot open for an outside addition.

The free agencies of Keuchel ($13.2 million), Gonzalez ($5.1 million), Brian McCann ($11.5 million) and Charlie Morton ($7.0 million) have given the Astros plenty of money to spend, so shelling out $15 million on Cruz for each of the next two years would be a no-brainer.

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Terms: Three years, $42 million

    After whiffing on Corbin, the Yankees reportedly set their sights on Eovaldi and Happ, according to Morosi.

    Now that Eovaldi is also off the market, it stands to reason Happ will be the team’s top target.

    The 36-year-old made the biggest impact of any trade deadline pickup after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.

    With Corbin and Eovaldi off the market, he’s arguably the best starter still available alongside fellow lefty Keuchel. As a result, there are several teams vying for his services.

    As Heyman wrote, “Happ has 10 teams chasing him, and I may have undersold him on the free-agent predictions list, suggesting a two-year deal. ‘It’ll take three years,’ one interested party said.”

    It took a three-year, $36 million deal to sign Happ the last time he hit the open market, and though he’s three years older, he could top that total value on another three-year pact.

    The Yankees have Paxton, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia penciled into the top four spots in their rotation. Rounding out the staff with Happ would put them in a solid position to make a run at the rival Boston Red Sox in the American League East.

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Terms: Four years, $48 million

    There’s a robust market this offseason for teams in need of second base help.

    Veterans Jed Lowrie, Brian Dozier, Daniel Murphy and Ian Kinsler are still capable of handling everyday roles, while Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison and Cory Spangenberg are useful bench pieces who can step into bigger roles.

    That said, the second baseman drawing the most interest seems to be DJ LeMahieu.

    The 2016 MLB batting champ has already gotten looks from the Dodgers, Washington Nationals and Minnesota Twins, according to Morosi, so don’t be surprised if he’s the first player to sign at the position.

    A .298 career hitter with three Gold Glove Awards in the past five seasons, LeMahieu has two standout tools with his glove and his contact ability.

    The Nationals have veteran Howie Kendrick and utility man Wilmer Difo penciled in at second base, and top prospect Carter Kieboom is a potential option there as well.

    That said, with third baseman Anthony Rendon headed for free agency next offseason, the future infield could just as easily feature Kieboom at the hot corner and LeMahieu at the keystone.

    With the Dodgers focused on a catcher and a possible pursuit of Harper, and the Twins having already signed Jonathan Schoop, the Nationals have the best chance to get something done this week.

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Terms: Five years, $75 million

    Some general manager shy away from naming the players they’re targeting during the offseason.

    Brodie Van Wagenen—the new general manager of the New York Mets—is not one of those guys, as he spoke to MLB Network Radio about the team’s interest in outfielder A.J. Pollock: “A.J. fits us really well. He’s a guy that we have been in touch with his agent the way we have many of the free agents out there. It’s a little unclear at this point where those conversations go, but I will continue to have dialogue with his agent.”

    Pollock, 31, is looking for a contract similar to the five-year, $80 million deal Lorenzo Cain signed with the Milwaukee Brewers last offseason, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

    His lengthy injury history could keep him from matching that lofty figure, but with a number of teams showing interest, he might come close.

    And for New York, signing Pollock could be a precursor to including Brandon Nimmo or Michael Conforto in a deal with the Marlins for Realmuto.

    If that is the plan of attack, expect the Mets to push hard to get a deal done with Pollock at the meetings so they can move forward with their trade pursuits.

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Terms: Five years, $90 million

    The Philadelphia Phillies are thought to be looking for a left-handed starter to slot between Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta at the top of their rotation.

    After missing out on Corbin, the team is said to have shifted its focus to Happ, according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com.

    We, however, predicted Happ will sign with the Yankees, so who else fits the bill?

    As Zolecki wrote: “The Phillies have other options, if needed. They have expressed interest in Japanese free-agent left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. D-backs left-hander Robbie Ray could be available in a trade. Free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel remains on the market.”

    Sure enough, the team has shown interest in Keuchel, according to Heyman.

    While the three-year deal it will likely take to sign Happ would carry less risk, Keuchel should age better than most over the course of a five-year deal since he’s a control pitcher who relies more on ground balls and weak contact than power stuff and strikeouts.

    The Phillies also have enough money to make a flashy addition like this to the pitching staff and still be serious suitors for Harper or Machado.

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    To SD: SP Trevor Bauer

    After signing Carlos Carrasco to an extension last week, the Cleveland Indians were said to be “increasingly motivated” to trade either Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

    If the Indians do trade a starter, Bauer is the most likely to go, per Heyman:

    “There has been more talk about Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco possibly being traded, but a couple rival GMs said they believe Trevor Bauer is the one who’s more likely to go. It’s not because of his quirky ways either (they like him), it’s because he has a bit less cost certainty since he is arbitration eligible and not under contract the next two years.”

    Bauer, 27, enjoyed the best season of his career in 2018, posting a 2.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 221 strikeouts in 175.1 innings to finish sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting.

    His two remaining years of club control make him the perfect target for a team that is looking for a frontline starter but won’t necessarily be in a position to contend in 2019.

    If the price is right, he could be the addition that helps the San Diego Padres take the step from rebuilding to relevancy.

       

    To CLE: OF Franmil Reyes, SP Logan Allen, 2B Esteury Ruiz, SP Pedro Avila

    What will it cost to acquire two years of Bauer?

    It’s no secret the Indians are in need of help in the outfield, so one of Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe would be a good place to start.

    Reyes, 23, had the best season of the three last year with a 130 OPS+ and 16 home runs in 285 plate appearances. He’s under control through the 2024 season and could be a long-term piece.

    Pairing him with one of the Padres’ second-tier pitching prospects might be enough to get the ball rolling. Here’s an idea of who falls where among the team’s top young arms:

  • Tier 1: MacKenzie Gore, Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez
  • Tier 2: Logan Allen, Ryan Weathers, Luis Patino, Cal Quantrill

While the guys in Tier 1 might be untouchable if San Diego gives up Reyes, anyone from Tier 2 would work as a second main piece. Allen has the best mix of polish and upside, so he’d likely be the preference.

Rounding out the package with 19-year-old infielder Esteury Ruiz (.728 OPS, 37 XBH, 49 SB at Single-A) and undersized right-hander Pedro Avila (4.27 ERA, 142 K, 130.2 IP at High-A) would give Cleveland two intriguing low-level prospects along with the two headliners.

It’d be a great return for a team with one eye on contending in 2019 and the other on the future.

     

All stats and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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