After Tuesday’s explosion of deals, the Hot Stove returned to a light simmer on Wednesday, but there still was plenty of news.
One of the most significant topics was the posting system that governs how Japanese players get from Nippon Professional Baseball to the Major Leagues. The two sides have been working on a new agreement throughout the offseason, which has been holding up the bidding for one of the winter’s hottest commodities, pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
However, a deal appears to be near, with Japanese media outlet Sanspo reporting Wednesday that the NPB is expected to accept a proposal limiting posting fees to $20 million. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports later added that if multiple teams submit the maximum bid, the player then could negotiate with all of those clubs.
Elsewhere on the international front, our Jesse Sanchez writes about the next wave of Cuban players set to follow recent signings such as Jose Abreu and Alexander Guerrero to the Majors. One of those players, slick-fielding 23-year-old shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, will audition for teams at a showcase this weekend at the Yankees’ facility in the Dominican Republic, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Martino writes that the Mets will be among those teams with scouts in attendance.
In other news from around the league:
- In the wake of the Yankees signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann to contracts totalling $238 million, our Bryan Hoch looks at whether free agent Robinson Cano is still a fit in the Bronx. If Cano doesn’t return, the Yankees have an insurance policy in Kelly Johnson, with Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network reporting that the two sides have agreed on a one-year deal for about $3 million.
- One other team rumored to be pursuing Cano is the Mariners, but general manager Jack Zduriencik wouldn’t confirm that interest.
- Seattle also is among the teams that could enter the fray to acquire Rays ace left-hander David Price. That market soon will intensify, according to Passan, who names the Mariners, Dodgers, Angels, Pirates, Rangers, D-backs and Blue Jays as likely contenders. While Tampa Bay doesn’t need to trade Price, doing so now probably would earn it the best possible return, given that Price has two seasons left before free agency. Several baseball officials who talked to Passan named the Mariners as a frontrunner to land Price, perhaps by offering a package headlined by highly touted pitching prospect Taijuan Walker.
- Max Scherzer is another Cy Young Award winner who has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason, but Detroit could be ready to pursue a contract extension instead. Our Jason Beck also addresses whether the Tigers could make a run at free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
- With Ellsbury gone, our Ian Browne discusses what the Red Sox will do to fill his spot in center field next season.
- The Mets are “deep in talks” with free-agent outfielder Curtis Granderson, reports our Anthony DiComo.
- Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija has been discussed as a trade target this offseason, but Theo Epstein said the right-hander likely will be in the team’s Opening Day rotation, with a long-term deal a possibility.
- The Cubs also agreed to a one-year deal with left-handed reliever Wesley Wright, who was non-tendered by the Rays on Monday.
- Paul Konerko has decided to return to the White Sox for one more season, filling a part-time role in his 16th year with the club. He will make $1.5 million, plus $1 million deferred until 2021.
- The Rockies are getting close to a two-year deal with free-agent first baseman Justin Morneau, who is expected to platoon with the right-handed Wilin Rosario. Morneau likely will get $12.5 million, plus a mutual option for 2016.
- The Reds might not be as likely to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips as was reported earlier in the offseason, especially in light of comments general manager Walt Jocketty made on Wednesday.
- With A.J. Pierzynski among the catchers who have gone off the board recently, the Rangers continue to look for a backup to pair with Geovany Soto. Kurt Suzuki is one candidate.
– Andrew Simon
The Cubs added another left-handed reliever to the bullpen mix on Wednesday, signing free agent Wesley Wright to a one-year deal believed to be $1.425 million. Wright, 28, was non-tendered by the Rays on Monday. He posted a combined 3.69 ERA in 70 games for the Rays and Astros this past season, striking out 55 over 53 2/3 innings pitched.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale first reported the deal. Major League sources confirmed it, pending Wright undergoing a physical.
In his career, Wright has held left-handed hitters to a .231 average compared to .266 by right-handed batters.
Wright announced the signing himself by changing his Twitter profile @realweswright to say he’s now a relief pitcher for the Cubs.
The Cubs were looking for bullpen help, and especially another left-hander to help southpaw James Russell, who ranked 10th in the National League in games (74). Chicago is still shopping for a closer to replace Kevin Gregg, who is a free agent.
– Carrie Muskat
During an interview Wednesday night on Chicago Sports Talk Live, Theo Epstein said the chances of Jeff Samardzija being in the Cubs Opening Day rotation are “pretty good.”
Samardzija has been the subject of trade rumors since July, and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick wrote Wednesday that the Cubs will do some “serious listening” at the Winter Meetings to teams interested in trading for the right-hander.
In the show Wednesday night on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, Epstein repeated that the Cubs are hoping to sign Samardzija to a long-term deal. The pitcher is arbitration eligible.
“He’s our best pitcher and I’m really bullish on his future,” Epstein said on the Comcast SportsNet Chicago show. “He’s a guy who is a difference making starting pitcher for a long time.”
Epstein did say they want to get the most out of their assets, and although one way is a contract extension, another way is to trade that player for “mulitiple young impact assets.”
“With Jeff, I still have the belief that he can be the guy, he has the exact makeup we’re looking for,” Epstein said.
Samardzija is under team control for two more seasons, has shown that he’s durable, he’s a power pitcher, and he’s only 28 years old. The Cubs would have to be blown away by a package to deal Samardzija, who is arbitration eligible and projected to get a $4.9 million in 2014. Many teams looking for starting pitching consider him to be a better alternative than the free agent pitchers still on the market.
What could influence the Cubs decision on whether to part with Samardzija is if they can fill that spot in the rotation with Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. According to a report on Wednesday, Japanese baseball officials are willing to accept the $20 million maximum bid, which would be part of the new posting rules. Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for Rakuten this season.
Stay tuned. The Winter Meetings get underway Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
– Carrie Muskat
Three days after their initial offseason meeting in San Diego, the Mets and Curtis Granderson are deep in talks to bring the free agent outfielder to Flushing.
One person familiar with the situation said the two sides were “in the process” late Wednesday afternoon, confirming that talks began simmering not long after general manager Sandy Alderson met Granderson for an introductory dinner Sunday evening. But the source stopped short of calling anything imminent. With the Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs and Mariners all reportedly interested in him, Granderson may take his time making a decision.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and Granderson’s agent, Matt Brown, did not return messages seeking comment. The negotiations may be centering around the Mets’ willingness to give Granderson a four-year deal as opposed to three.
Granderson, 32, was limited to 61 games last season due to a broken right forearm and broken left pinkie, each the product of hit-by-pitches. He hit 84 homers with the Yankees from 2011-12.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty appeared on MLB Network Radio with host Chris Russo on Wednesday and seemed to put to bed the trade rumors involving Brandon Phillips.
“I told him we are not in any talks to trade him,” Jocketty said. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t trade him but I told him we’re a better team with him here.”
– Mark Sheldon
It’s already been a busy winter for the Padres, who on Tuesday landed outfielder Seth Smith in a deal with the A’s, helping them land the left-handed bat they coveted this off-season.
The Padres dealt from a position of strength — pitching — to get Smith, who general manager Josh Byrnes figures could get 400+ plate appearances in the outfield and off the bench.
Dealing reliever Luke Gregerson, he of the wipe out slider, wasn’t easy for the Padres. But, as history shows us, relievers don’t often fetch a big return — not unless it’s on or before the July 31 Trade Deadline when teams are much more desperate for relief help.
The Padres hope to have Nick Vincent handle the seventh inning, Dale Thayer the eighth and closer Huston Street the ninth inning moving forward. Prospects Kevin Quackenbush and Leonel Campos could make a push in Spring Training to land jobs.
That said, the Padres will likely add one if not two more relievers before the start of Spring Training. Now that they’ve added Smith and starting pitcher Josh Johnson, look for them to turn their attention to finding a left-handed reliever.
– Corey Brock
Reports on Wednesday have the White Sox captain returning for 2014.
Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday morning that veteran first baseman/designated hitter Paul Konerko will come back for the 2014 season. He’s a free agent and had considered retirement.
MLB.com’s Scott Merkin has confirmed the deal, and reports that it is for one year, and $2.5 million with a portion deferred. An announcement is expected sometime Wednesday morning.
The 37-year-old veteran struggled in 126 games last year, hitting .244 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs. With Jose Abreu now in the mix, along with fellow veteran first baseman/DH Adam Dunn, it’s unclear how much action Konerko will see next year.
– Joey Nowak
Reds 2B Brandon Phillips has been subject to myriad trade rumors for much of the off-season. But late Tuesday night, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal heard from a source that said otherwise. Rosenthal reports that it is unlikely the Reds will deal Phillips this winter.
The odds were already tough that Phillips could be moved since he has $50 million and four years on his contract. Rosenthal points out that the Reds’ offense would already be depleted if the team lost free agent Shin-Soo Choo.
However, Choo wasn’t expected to stay in the first place when the Phillips rumors started. So that’s not exactly a revelation.
A deal is certainly still possible, especially if a substantial one is offered, Rosenthal wrote. Teams that lose out on free agents Robinson Cano or Omar Infante could have Phillips has a fall back option.
GM Walt Jocketty has maintained that no one is untouchable on the current roster in the effort to make upgrades, including Phillips.
At the moment, Phillips is not on the list to attend Redsfest this weekend. But he was extended an invitation by the club.
– Mark Sheldon
While the dust is still settling from the Yankees’ blockbuster signing of outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal, the club is also close to reaching an agreement with infielder Kelly Johnson, according to the New York Post.
The newspaper reported that Johnson’s deal with the Yankees will be worth between $2.75 million and $3 million. Johnson batted .235 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs in 118 games last season for the Rays. He provides another option at second base in case Robinson Cano does not return, but projects better as a depth option at multiple positions.
Omar Infante has also received interest from the Yankees as an alternative to Cano, as the club is holding firm to their offer of a seven-year deal in the range of $160 to $170 million.
- Bryan Hoch
The Tigers made the two biggest trades of the offseason to date to create flexibility out of a top-five payroll. They wouldn’t address the reinvestment end of that money until they took care of their most pressing need and signed a closer. Now that Joe Nathan is about to become a Tiger, it’s time, and the Tigers might well spend it making one good run at one of the biggest free agents on the market again.
Both Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com report the Tigers have shown interest in multi-tooled Shin-Soo Choo, the most prominent left-handed hitting outfielder available now that Jacoby Ellsbury is headed to the Yankees. Feinsand cites a source that Choo is Detroit’s top free-agent target.
Choo fits the profile of hitter the Tigers are known to be seeking, balancing out a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup while also adding speed and on-base percentage back into Detroit’s offense. The Tigers saw him up-close for years in Cleveland, where he was a teammate of Detroit DH Victor Martinez. And unlike other speedy leadoff hitters who have hit the market, hitters the Tigers have traditionally judged on how their game would mature as they age and lose speed, Choo brings a skill set that doesn’t hinge on his speed.
The question for the Tigers with Choo is financial, how far they’re willing or able to go to sign him. They just shed the burden of a megacontract by trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. With several players nearing free agency, Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera foremost among them, they can’t afford to put themselves in the same bind, though Choo isn’t expected to approach the nine-year deal Fielder signed with the Tigers two winters ago.
– Jason Beck