Harper and Machado Sweepstakes Roll On
Free agent outfielder Bryce Harper caused a commotion by liking an Instagram post by the official MLB account that asked if the Dodgers were the favorites to sign the superstar. Did that simple gesture indicate that he prefers to play for the Dodgers? There has been no confirmation from the Dodgers that they want to sign Harper or that they would be willing to give him the $300 million-plus contract he craves. Harper would surely like to play for a team that is close to his Las Vegas home and that has made it to the last two World Series. Many observers have surmised that the Dodgers' recent salary purge trade with the Reds might have been done with an eye to clearing payroll space to sign Harper. The team could use an outfielder after shedding Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in the deal with the Reds. Currently their starting outfielders would be Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson, with the third spot going to either Chris Taylor, Andrew Toles, Enrique Hernandez or prospect Alex Verdugo. The Dodgers might prefer a right-handed batter to even out their lefty-heavy lineup, but that is not a good enough reason to pass up a generational talent like Harper. The Dodgers have had payrolls as high as $247 million for a single season but they have employed a balanced approach by spreading that wealth out across the roster rather than splurging on superstars. Clayton Kershaw's three-year, $93 million contract is the largest deal their current front office has signed. Matt Kemp signed an eight-year, $160 million deal back in 2012 but that was done by a different administration. Would general manager Andrew Friedman and his staff be willing to change their approach to give out $300 million or more to a single player? Maybe they would for elite young players like Harper or Manny Machado.
The Cubs haven't been mentioned as one of the more likely destinations for Harper until recently. They are coming off of a disappointing season that saw them finish second in the NL Central and lose to the Rockies in the Wild Card Game. They aren't believed to have the payroll space needed to make any major acquisitions this winter, but Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Cubs told Harper's agent Scott Boras to check back in with them before letting Harper sign with another team. They just saw their division rival Cardinals add slugger Paul Goldschmidt and ace reliever Andrew Miller and may feel the need to make a big move of their own if they want to return to the postseason. On the other hand, they have been burned recently by granting huge contracts to outfielder Jason Heyward and starting pitcher Yu Darvish.
Speaking of Machado, the Dodgers appear to be out of the running to snare the free agent shortstop/third baseman. With Justin Turner locked in at third base and injured shortstop Corey Seager on tap to return at the start of the upcoming season it doesn't appear that the Dodgers have a clear need to bring Machado back. But they could use a second baseman. Chris Taylor tops their depth chart at second base at the moment but he could be moved to the outfield with either Turner or Seager moving to second to clear up a spot for Machado. Both C.J. Nitkowski of MLB Network Radio and Steve Phillips of MLB Network have stated their belief that other teams have noticed the Dodgers are not interested in re-signing Machado and are wondering if it is because they have soured on him. Nitkowski said "What do (the Dodgers) know that you don't know?" Machado made some controversial comments, some dirty plays and displayed an occasional lack of hustle in his time with the Dodgers that may have made teams wonder if he may be a risky gamble on a huge contract.
Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports says "We've heard all along that Machado wants to be in New York or Boston". The Red Sox don't have a need for Machado either, but the Yankees do. Starting shortstop Didi Gregorius is expected to miss at least the first half of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees have also been shopping third baseman Miguel Andujar. Is that a sign they are clearing a spot for Machado? Heyman says he believes Machado would choose the Yankees even if the White Sox or Phillies offer him more money. Both of those teams are aggressively courting both Machado and Harper. The Phillies have said they are wiling to be stupid with their money this winter and will be sorely disappointed if they are unable to land at least one of the two available superstars. The White Sox don't appear close to being ready to compete for the post-season, so they may be in the unfortunate position of having to significantly outbid the competition to snag a player interested in winning now.
Athletics Scrambling for Pitching
Athletics signed RHP Mike Fiers to a two-year contract. The deal was reported over the weekend and is now official. According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, Fiers is expected to make between $14-15 million. The veteran starter turned in a nice 2018 season with the Tigers and Athletics, going 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over the course of 30 starts and one relief appearance. Much of his success can be traced to avoiding the free pass -- his 1.94 BB/9 was by far the best walk rate of his career and ranked him eighth in the majors this year. As their roster stands right now, Fiers is likely to be the Athletic's starter on Opening Day.
Athletics executive vice president of operations Billy Beane said Monday that Sean Manaea (shoulder) could be ready to return "perhaps around the All-Star break." Manaea underwent surgery in September to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. A's manager Bob Melvin initially said they were concerned he would miss the entire 2019 season, but this latest update is much more optimistic. The 26-year-old left-hander went 12-9 with a 3.59 ERA in 27 starts before the injury. He threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox on April 21st.
Beane said the A's are still looking to find at least one more starting pitcher for their rotation -- and they may need as many as three more. Beane said, "Right now, the focus from here to Spring Training -- and possibly through Spring Training like last year -- is we're going to continue to try to find some starters to bring into camp. We like a lot of the club that's on the board right now. We feel very good about the position players. We feel very good about the bullpen. It's all about the starters right now." Right-hander Daniel Mengden and the recently re-signed Mike Fiers are the only two pitchers who have rotation slots sewn up at this point. Free agent Edwin Jackson went 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts for the Athletics this past season and they are likely interested in bringing him back. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo is another option, although he may not be ready to shine in the big leagues at the start of the season. The 21-year-old reached Triple-A for the first time in 2018 but made only four late-season starts there. Prior to that he went 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A.
**Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians and Oliver Perez have mutual interest in a reunion. The 37-year-old situational lefty turned in an eye-popping 1.39 ERA and 0.74 WHIP this past season with Cleveland. He pitched in 50 games but accumulated only 32 1/3 innings, often being used to face just a single batter. He managed 43 strikeouts, issued only seven walks and surrendered just one homer in those 32 1/3 frames. He has pitched for eight teams in his long career (Padres, Pirates, Mets, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Astros, Nationals and Indians). He will have no trouble finding a major league job this offseason.
**Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post confirmed that the Nationals are interested in free agent southpaw Wade Miley. The veteran left-hander revitalized his career in 2018 by registering a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts with the Brewers. Believers will credit his smoke-and-mirrors repertoire that led to him limiting opponents to just three home runs in 80 2/3 innings. Skeptics will point to his poor 5.58 K/9, a lucky .269 BABIP (league average .295) and a lucky 5.2% HR/FB rate (league average 14%) to say the odds of him repeating his success are slim to none. In addition to the Nationals, Miley has been linked to the Reds and Brewers. The Reds hired away former Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson this winter, which may entice Miley to follow him to Cincinnati.
**Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reports that Craig Kimbrel has lowered his salary demands from six-years and $96 million to five years and $86 million. The latter figure would match the contract signed by Aroldis Chapman with the Yankees prior to the 2017 season. Kimbrel is 30 years old, which is two years older than Chapman was at the time he signed his deal. Kimbrel struggled down the stretch this past campaign but still ended the regular season with a 5-1 record, 42 saves and a 2.74 ERA in 63 games. He struck out 96 batters and walked 31 in 62 1/3 innings. Only Edwin Diaz and Wade Davis saved more games. He remains a top-three fantasy option at closer and is already the active leader in career saves with 333, which is eight more than 41-year-old Fernando Rodney.