Free Agent Season Still Going Strong
Spring training games have begun yet there are still some good players stuck in the unemployment line. One of the best found a job when the Padres officially announced the signing of infielder Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract on Thursday evening. The deal contains an opt-out after the 2023 season, and a limited no-trade clause that will become a full no-trade clause due to 10-and-5 rules after the sixth year. Machado is expected to play third base for the Friars. Youngster Luis Urias will man shortstop for a year or so, and then move to second base when elite shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is ready to make his debut.
Now that Machado has found a new home the focus shifts to the other major superstar still on the market. Sources tell Bruce Levine of 670 The Score in Chicago that the White Sox will not bid on free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper. The club was bitterly disappointed that Machado chose the Padres instead of them, so the natural inclination would be to offer that money to Harper. But according to Levine that is not going to happen. This is a surprise considering the White Sox have been heavily in the running for the outfielder all winter. Sources tell Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News that the Phillies are "confident" they will sign Bryce Harper. Breen writes that the Phillies have "ramped up their negotiations with the outfielder after being motivated by losing out on Manny Machado." Philadelphia has been the heavy favorite to land Harper in recent weeks but there's no word of an agreement being close. MLB Network's Jon Heyman says Harper is "believed" to have recently turned down multiple offers in excess of $300 million. Heyman also reports that the Padres haven't ruled out Harper even after they signed Machado to a $300 million deal. The Nationals and Giants are known to be pursuing Harper, and there could be dark horse teams as well.
In addition to Harper there are still a few more fantasy-worthy free agents yet to find new homes. Teams with holes in their lineups better act fast to snare one of these guys before it's too late. Dallas Keuchel is the top starting pitcher still available. The former Cy Young winner went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 34 starts last year with the Astros. Left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez went 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA in 32 starts for the Nationals and Brewers. Ace closer Craig Kimbrel saved 42 games and registered a 2.74 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings for the Red Sox last year. Reliever Bud Norris saved 28 games for the Cardinals and turned in a solid 3.59 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. Veteran outfielder Adam Jones is still unemployed after batting .281/.313/.419 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI in 145 games for the Orioles in 2018. He could be interesting if he lands a starting role on a productive offense. Carlos Gonzalez batted .276/.329/.467 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI for the Rockies last year and could see a big drop-off in performance if he leaves the thin air of Colorado.
According to Dan Hayes of The Athletic, the Twins have discussed a potential three-year contract with free agent Marwin Gonzalez. He is a fit for just about every club in the major leagues because of his ability to play all over the diamond defensively. Gonzalez had a down year by his standards with the Astros in 2018, but the versatile 29-year-old batted .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs and 90 RBI over 134 games in 2017.
The Tigers are considering adding a veteran first base-DH option. Some of their options are Logan Morrison, Evan Gattis, Hanley Ramirez, Brad Miller, Adrian Gonzalez and Adam Lind -- all of whom are free agents. The oft-injured and rapidly aging Miguel Cabrera figures to start most days at designated hitter and will see some time at first base. The Tigers don't have a true first baseman on the roster. Backup catcher John Hicks is currently slated to get a lot of at-bats at first base and DH if the club doesn't bring in someone from outside the organization. Expect to see at least one of the aforementioned veterans sign an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Tigers soon.
News from Around the League
** Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Thursday that if Trea Turner "attempts 75-80 [stolen bases], we’ll be in great shape." Turner led the National League last year with 43 steals in 52 attempts. Whit Merrifield led the majors with 45 bags. In most seasons it takes around 60 stolen bases to lead the majors, a total that Turner could easily reach if he makes 75-80 attempts. Turner is a good all-around fantasy contributor but the bulk of his fantasy value does come from his wheels. He is already being selected in the first rounds of most early fantasy drafts, and this news helps to justify that draft position.
** Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen will get the chance to both pitch and play center field during Cactus League games this spring. Last year as a pitcher he went 4-2 with a fine 3.11 ERA in 45 games, including three starts at the end of the season. As a batter he slashed .290/.333/.710 with four homers and 10 RBI in 31 at-bats. Most of those at-bats came as a pinch-hitter, often in clutch situations (including a grand slam). He was a star two-way player in college and has expressed his desire to be a starting pitcher and play the outfield when he's not on the mound. The success of Shohei Ohtani as both a pitcher and hitter is starting to give teams the confidence to let some athletes play both ways. Rays prospect Brendan McKay and Rangers third baseman Matt Davidson are some other examples.
** Josh Harrison is signing a one-year deal to become the Tigers' second baseman, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. Harrison was an All-Star in 2017 and is just 31, but there was little demand for his services after he hit a feeble .250/.290/.363 in 344 at-bats last season. He'll displace Niko Goodrum in Detroit. Harrison's positional versatility has made him a useful backup on fantasy rosters over the last several years, giving his owners the ability to fill in for injured players at a variety of lineup slots.
It is early in spring training and already there are a lot of players nursing new injuries or gingerly returning to action after missing the end of last season. Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on all of these players to make sure they are on the field before spending precious draft picks on them.
- Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters on Thursday that the MRI on utilityman Jed Lowrie's left knee revealed no significant damage. Note that Van Wagenen says no "significant" damage, which may not be the same thing as no damage at all. Still, it can be considered a positive that this doesn't appear to be a major injury for the 34-year-old who signed a two-year, $20 million contract with New York in January. He had a career year with the Athletics in 2018, batting .267/.353/.448 while setting new career highs with 23 home runs and 99 RBI. He has been in the majors for 11 years and accumulated a grand total of seven stolen bases-- none in the last three years.
- Giants catcher Buster Posey (hip) is not expected to catch in Cactus League games until March. It's just a precautionary measure coming off surgery last August to repair a torn labrum in his right hip and an impingement. Posey is expected to be fine by Opening Day. He is hoping to bounce back from the worst season of his career. He batted .284/.359/.382 (which is still good for a catcher) with just five home runs and 41 RBI in 105 games last season.
- Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (elbow) is scheduled to face live pitching on Wednesday. It's another step in the right direction for Bregman, who underwent surgery in January to remove loose bodies from his throwing elbow. All indications are that he will be a full-go for the start of the 2019 regular season. He is coming off a monster season that saw him bat .286/.394/.532 with 31 home runs, 103 RBI, 105 runs and 10 stolen bases. He won't turn 25 years old until after Opening Day.
- Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow (elbow) will push his flat-ground throwing out to 105 feet on Wednesday in camp. If that goes smoothly, Morrow could soon be cleared for daily throwing sessions. He had been limited to throwing every other day since arriving in Arizona. The rehabbing right-hander is about a month behind the other pitchers in Cubs camp and probably won't be an option for the major league roster until sometime in late April or early May. Pedro Strop is expected to open the 2019 regular season as Chicago's primary closer.
- Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes (shoulder) threw a live batting practice session Tuesday in camp. The former elite prospect missed all of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery, then missed all but one game of 2018 due to shoulder issues. He is a high-risk, high reward draft pick. It remains to be seen if he will be used as a starter or reliever.
- Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was hit in the foot by a Felix Hernandez pitch, but an x-ray revealed no structural damage. Ichiro will be on the roster for the two-game, season-opening series against the Athletics in Tokyo but is unlikely to play beyond that.
- Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Athletics starter Sean Manaea (shoulder) is "way ahead of schedule." Manaea underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum last September and is expected to miss a big chunk of the 2019 season, but maybe not quite as much as expected following this report.
- Royals outfielder Jorge Soler (toe) told reporters that he's feeling 100 percent prior to the start of Cactus League games. Soler appeared in just 61 games because of his fractured toe, but he did post a an .820 OPS during that time frame with nine homers.
- The Cardinals plan to ease reliever Andrew Miller into action this spring to protect his injured knee. Miller, signed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract this winter, was placed on the disabled list twice last year because of knee injuries. He slumped to a 4.24 ERA last year with the Indians but still managed to fan 45 batters in 34 innings.
- Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (heel) has been cleared for light baseball activity. Sano suffered a cut on his right heel while celebrating his team winning the Dominican Winter League championship. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day. His fantasy owners are hoping for better than the .199/.281/.398 slash line with 13 homers and 41 RBI he put up last year in 71 games.
- Twins starter Kyle Gibson (illness) will not make his Grapefruit League debut until next week. Gibson is still rebuilding strength since his bout with an E. coli infection last month, but the Twins are encouraged by his progress and expect him to be ready for the beginning of the 2019 regular season. Gibson went 10-13 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 32 starts last year in Minnesota.
- Nationals second baseman Howie Kendrick (heel) is scheduled to start at second base in Saturday's Grapefruit League opener against the Astros. Kendrick missed a large majority of the 2018 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in May. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
- Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (wrist) will miss the early portion of the Grapefruit League schedule. Swanson had surgery in November to remove a loose body from his left wrist and is being eased along in Braves camp, but the team is confident he'll be ready for Opening Day. He registered a .238 batting average with 14 home runs, 59 RBI and 10 stolen bases last year in 136 games.
- Angels starter Matt Harvey (glute) threw off a mound Wednesday in camp. It was his first time doing so since he suffered a minor glute strain last week during early-spring agility drills.
Quick Hits: Phillies re-signed Trevor Plouffe to a minor league contract. The former Twins third baseman holds a weak .200/.271/.325 batting line over his last 325 plate appearances in the bigs. He turns 33 years old this June. ... Reliever Tyler Clippard has signed a minor league deal with the Indians. Clippard will get $1.75 million if he makes the team. The 34-year-old had a rough 2017, but he was able to post a solid 3.67 ERA for the Jays last year, even though he gave up 13 homers in 68 2/3 innings. ... First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is continuing workouts and hopes to play in 2019. He turns 37 years old in May, and batted just .237/.299/.373 with six home runs over 54 games for the Mets last season. ... The Mets' Dominic Smith will exclusively play first base this spring.