Bruce Back in New York
The Mets agreed to sign free agent outfielder Jay Bruce to a three-year, $39 million contract that includes a limited no-trade clause. The deal is pending a clean physical. Bruce slugged a career-high 36 home runs last year along with a .254 batting average and 101 runs batted in. He hit 29 of those longballs with the Mets before being traded to the Indians in early August.
Bruce was told he would be an everyday player so it remains to be seen which of his new teammates will be forced to the bench. The Mets had a pre-existing outfield of Yoenis Cespedes in left, Juan Lagares in center and Michael Conforto in right. The signing of Bruce may be an indication the club believes Conforto will miss the first part of the season as he recovers from his shoulder surgery. When Conforto is ready to return to action we could see Cespedes move to center and Conforto to left field with Bruce manning right field and possibly getting some time at first base in place of youngster Dominic Smith.
The 30-year-old Bruce already ranks 14th among all active players with 277 career homers. All of the players above him are at least three years older, although 27-year-old Giancarlo Stanton is lurking just behind him with 267 career dingers.
Firewood for the Hot Stove
Free agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish tweeted that he has whittled his list of potential teams down to six. He indicated five of those teams are the Rangers, Yankees, Cubs, Astros and Twins. The sixth team is a mystery but could be the Dodgers. Darvish is the top pitcher on the free agent market. If he signs soon it could set off a buying frenzy for the remaining hurlers. Darvish struggled to a 10-12 record with a 3.86 ERA last year but his strong peripherals suggest a nice bounce-back campaign is on the horizon. He fanned 209 batters against just 58 free passes in 186 2/3 innings in his 31 starts with the Rangers and Dodgers.
Starlin Castro has yet to play a single game for the Marlins but has already requested a trade according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The second baseman was acquired from the Yankees last month in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. Castro may get his wish as the Marlins would like to shed the $38.7 million they owe him over the next three seasons. He registered a .300 batting average with 16 homers and 63 RBI in 112 games with the Yankees last year.
Gerrit Cole is still a Pirate even though several reports on Thursday suggested a deal was in place to send him to the Astros for prospects. Apparently one of the teams backed out of the deal or there was never a deal in place at all. There was so much smoke on the Twittersphere it is hard to believe there was not at least a small fire burning. The Pirates are actively shopping Cole around the league as they work on a mini-rebuilding effort. Trade negotiations with the Yankees were in the advanced stages last week but the two teams could not agree on a package of prospects in exchange for Cole. Although no deal appears imminent it is highly likely Cole will be dealt somewhere before spring training begins. The 27-year-old right-hander was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and owns a 59-42 record with a 3.50 ERA in 127 career starts for the Pirates.
The Pirates are also shopping former MVP outfielder and face-of-the-franchise Andrew McCutchen. The Giants continue to show strong interest in the 31-year-old, who will earn $14.5 million in the final season of his contract. McCutchen finished in the top five of MVP voting each year from 2012 through 2015 but his performance faded in 2016, when he was essentially a league-average hitter. He bounced part of the way back in 2017, finishing at .279/.363/.489 with 28 home runs, 94 runs, 88 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
Too Much Pitching is Never Enough
Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Astros feel they need one more top-flight starting pitcher. If they are unable to land Gerrit Cole they could target one of the remaining free agents such as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn or the aforementioned Yu Darvish. The world champion Astros already have one of the best rotations in the majors, featuring Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock. If they add yet another starter that would give them seven strong options.
The Giants are still seeking outfield help after missing out on Giancarlo Stanton. They were hoping to sign Jay Bruce but were outbid by the Mets. The Giants have plenty of money to spend but have been unable to coax any free agent sluggers to their cavernous, pitcher-friendly home ballpark. They may need to part with some prospects (although their farm system is nearly devoid of high-value trade chips) in a trade to bring in the likes of McCutchen or the fleet-footed Billy Hamilton of the Reds.
J.D. Martinez is unhappy with the contract offers he has been receiving and is reportedly willing to hold out into spring training. He wants a seven-year contract worth nearly $200 million but has been receiving five-year contract offers in the range of $120-$150 million. The Red Sox are believed to be his biggest suitor with several other teams including the Diamondbacks still in the running.
The last couple days have witnessed a frenzy of signings as teams successfully negotiate one-year contracts with arbitration-eligible young players. Finding the middle ground enables both sides to avoid a contentious arbitration hearing. Some of the more notable deals: Diamondbacks and LHP Patrick Corbin agreed to a one-year, $7.5 million contract... Twins and 3B Eduardo Escobar agreed to a one-year, $4.85 million contract... Yankees and RHP Tommy Kahnle agreed to a one-year, $1.3125 million contract... Tigers and catcher James McCann agreed to a one-year, $2.375 million contract... Mariners and catcher Mike Zunino agreed to a one-year, $2.975 million contract... Cardinals and OF Randal Grichuk agreed to a one-year, $2.6 million contract... Angels and closer Blake Parker agreed to a one-year, $1.8 million contract... Indians and closer Cody Allen agreed to a one-year, $10.575 million contract... Athletics and OF Khris Davis agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract.
Quick Hits: Major League Baseball has launched an investigation into sexual assault claims against Twins 3B Miguel Sano. He could face a league suspension even if he is not charged with a crime... White Sox reliever Nate Jones is nearly recovered from his elbow surgery and could be ready for the start of the season. He may challenge for a late-inning bullpen role... Former closer Francisco Rodriguez wants to make a comeback and claims to have his fastball up to 93 mph in recent bullpen sessions... The Yankees want to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and are willing to pay half of the money left on his contract to help facilitate a deal according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Ellsbury is owed at least $68.5 million over the next three years... White Sox and SP Miguel Gonzalez have agreed to a one-year, $4.75 million contract. Gonzalez turned in a 4.62 ERA in 156 innings last year... Dodgers 1B Cody Bellinger told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick that he has put on 15 pounds of muscle this offseason... Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia hopes to be ready for the start of the season. Previous reports indicated he would miss the first 6-8 weeks... Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson signed a minor league contract with the Nationals... Brewers released RHP Taylor Jungmann. He reportedly will play the 2018 season in Japan... Braves released 3B Adonis Garcia. He reportedly will play the 2018 season in Korea... White Sox acquired INF Jose Rondon from the Padres for cash considerations.