Good morning, Mets fans! Welcome back to another edition of the hot stove rumor roundup! On tap today, the other New York baseball team has already laid out a pretty robust blueprint in perfecting its starting rotation, and the Chicago Cubs make an interesting proposition as they try righting the ship following a disheartening collapse that cut their 2018 season short.
Yankees Shopping for Starters
Right-hander Sonny Gray, while still on the roster, has been marketed on the trading block over the past few weeks, evidently as a means of picking up whatever young talent may be available. According to Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports, the Oakland Athletics could step up as a possible landing spot, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune has pegged the San Diego Padres as another team with interest in the 29-year old. Sources have told MLB.com‘s Mark Feinsand that up to five teams have contacted the Yankees about Gray.
With a 4.90 ERA and a projected $9.1M in arbitration salary likely off the ledger as the Yankees try moving on from Gray, general manager Brian Cashman has reportedly turned his attention to a trio of lefties – some more affordable than others. The first arm, J.A. Happ, made 11 starts during the second half last year in the Bronx, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in his fifth-straight season with double-digits in the win column. Though 36 years old, Happ’s 15.8 WAR dating back to 2014 ranks ninth among southpaws, and his age could line up perfectly for a modest two-three year deal, something Cashman has admitted to recently discussing with Happ’s agent.
Another potential option for the Yankees is highly-coveted free agent Patrick Corbin, as explored by Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. Coming off a season in which he cracked 200 innings while setting personal records in ERA (3.15 with a 2.47 FIP), HR/9 (0.7), and K/9 (11.1 against just 2.2 BB/9), the 29-year old Corbin has openly discussed interest in playing for his childhood organization, which is “undeterred” by neither his asking price nor injury history.
Perhaps the most attractive of trade pieces at the moment is Seattle Mariners’ ace James Paxton, who has also been confirmed as a target for the Yankees’ front office by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The two sides are rumored to have been in contact regarding a trade, though nothing more has been said. Paxton made a career-high 28 starts in 2018, posting a 3.76 ERA/3.23 FIP while striking out 11.7 batters per nine innings in a dominant showing.
Paxton comes with two more years of team control, projecting to make $9M in arbitration for the 2019 season, though his injury history could temper Seattle’s chances at prying away the entire farm system should a trade be worked out. That’s not to say the Yankees haven’t pushed the cards in, however, as they’ve clearly demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice resources, however possible, in order to keep a foot in the divisional race.
Cubs “Open” to a Potential Bryant Trade
Among other spicy developments, the Chicago Cubs – though not with the same flare as the Mariners – have expressed a willingness to part with their current core in order to build a more successful team. It’s never explicitly noted in Buster Olney’s recent article for ESPN that the team intends to sell, but rather that it will listen to just about any offer for just about any player, including All-Star third baseman and 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant.
Bryant was limited to 102 games this past year, hitting .272/.374/.460 with just 13 homers as his 1.9 WAR went down (with a thud) as a career-low, but still boasts plenty of value in the everyday lineup, be it at the hot corner or in left field. In a rather anti-climactic elaboration from team president Theo Epstein, the Cubs essentially revealed that Bryant, like just about anyone on the roster, could be worth trading down the line:
“We’ve never operated with untouchables,” Epstein said. “It sends the wrong message. Given what we’re trying to accomplish, it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them. I just don’t believe in untouchables. Why limit yourself?”
Put another way, it’s still unclear whether or not the Cubs’ stance spells either an end of an era or a simple act of fine-tuning as teams around the league ponder ways to make room for Manny Machado. There’s still a lot to be known in the Windy City.
Harrison Drawing Interest
Meanwhile, among utility options, Marwin Gonzalez may finally have some (minuscule) competition, as teams have reportedly been in touch with recently-bought-out Josh Harrison. Despite turning in his worst offensive campaign as a regular (97 games, .656 OPS, 3 steals, 0.3 WAR, 78 wRC+), Harrison has received calls from such teams as the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Yankees (Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports).
Harrison has experience starting at second and third base, and has also patrolled the corners of the outfield every so often. While no such team will look to deploy the 31-year old in an everyday role, Harrison’s potential value as a utility upgrade akin to Brock Holt, Howie Kendrick, Hernan Perez could have its advantages as the season wears on and depth is tested.
Teams Looking at Chirinos
Like Harrison, he isn’t by many measures the leading act in his department, but catcher Robinson Chirinos is nonetheless drawing interest. According to MLB Network‘s Jon Morosi, both the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins have expressed interest in the backstop.
Chirinos hit .222/.338/.419 in 113 games last year with the Texas Rangers, but also set career-highs in home runs (18) and runs batted in (65). His 26% caught-stealing rate from 2014 to 2017 took a dive as he nabbed just 10% of runners this past year, but with the line of viable part-time catchers thinning out relatively early down the line, it’s hard to envision Chirinos being passed over.
Cruz Getting Looks from American League Clubs
In a final bit of news, the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros have both emerged as potential suitors for veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz (Jon Heyman). Cruz, 38, just wrapped up the final year of a four-year, $57M deal with the Seattle Mariners and the fifth consecutive 35+ homer campaign. Admittedly, his .850 OPS was his lowest line since the 2014 season, but 37 homers and 97 runs batted in is more than enough consolation.
Despite his age, Cruz has generally managed to stay healthy – as his 144 games in 2018 was his lowest total since 109 appearances in 2014. Nonetheless, for such teams that need a piece of lumber in the middle of their orders as the Astros, it’s hard to see how south things could go on whatever one or two-year deal Cruz takes up.
The White Sox, meanwhile, would be able to experiment with their next competitive step on a seemingly low-risk deal that could be shipped out by July should the division get away early on. One point worth noting is that Cruz has played nine games in the outfield since 2017, which almost certainly renders him off-limits for National League teams.