Happy Monday, Mets fans! Welcome to another edition of the hot stove rumor roundup! With spring training just around the corner, more than a handful of free agents remain unsigned, though teams remain interested in adding pieces.
Likelihood of Kluber Trade Fading
In a disheartening development for those baseball fans seeking solace in the trade market, there is now “no chance” – per MLB.com‘s Jon Morosi – that the Indians trade prized ace Corey Kluber ahead of the 2019 season. Neither the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, nor Los Angeles Dodgers (all of whom have expressed interest this offseason) would be able to engage in discussions once spring training kicks off, Morosi notes.
Though Cleveland has managed to ship off the likes of Edwin Encarnación, Yonder Alonso, and Yan Gomes in a semi-fire sale this offseason, discussions surrounding Kluber have “quieted to a whisper,” with Morosi citing the next bidding war likely scheduled for the next offseason. The 32-year old Kluber would need to be retained on the club’s $17.5MM option in order for that to be a possibility, however.
Statistically speaking, Kluber has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball across the past five years. A former 2007 fourth-round pick who didn’t find consistent activity in a rotation till 2013, Kluber ranks fifth in baseball since 2014 in K/BB (5.51), fourth in WHIP, ERA, and xFIP (1.02, 2.85, and 2.94, respectively), second in wins (83) and innings pitched (1091.1), and first in fWAR (31.0) and curveball value (120.3 runs above average – over double that of the runner-up, Aaron Nola).
Giants Looking to Attract Harper with Short-Term Deal
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the San Francisco Giants have entered the Bryce Harper sweepstakes as a serious challenger to the Philadelphia Phillies, with a high-ranking official in a rival organization ultimately predicting the Giants net the six-time All-Star.
Though much of their offseason has been spent fielding offers for veteran contracts like those of Evan Longoria and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants could very likely try lumping Harper into a similar plan by offering him a one-year deal in the $30MM range. Rather than make an enduring, potentially backloaded commitment akin to that of the Phillies, the Giants would likely fork over a hefty short-term sum in the hopes of, at the very worst, winning big with a deadline prospect haul.
Such a deal could benefit Harper as well (at least financially), as it would protect his value during what would essentially be a gap year before giving free agency another whirl in 2020. The 26-year old’s willingness to bite the bullet for one year could effectively determine whichever team he commits to ahead of 2019. Such names as Khris Davis, Marcell Ozuna, Aaron Hicks, and Yasiel Puig highlight the upcoming class of free agent outfielders, however.
Despite a slow start to his contract year in Washington, Harper broke through with an MVP-caliber second half, hitting .300/.434/.538 with 46 RBI in his final 65 games. His 1.3 bWAR was severely hampered by a -3.2 dWAR, though there’s no question how valuable Harper’s presence would be in a contending lineup. His .982 OPS with men in scoring position last season made for the second-highest in the National League behind Nolan Arenado.
Athletics Looking to Improve Rotation, Catching Core
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that the Oakland Athletics are not yet done getting a roster together, with the organization still inclined to add “a starting pitcher or two” ahead of the 2019 season. Slusser points to Edwin Jackson, Gio González, and Brett Anderson as possible options among remaining free agent arms, though she also notes that Oakland could hold out until the end of spring training to grab out-of-options pitchers who may be cut loose.
Having finished 27th in the majors in innings, 29th in strikeouts, and 29th in wild pitches, the A’s could certainly use a reinforcement behind Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada, though a limited budget renders the chances of an agreement with Dallas Keuchel minimal, at best. A handful of placeholders would likely suffice as prospects such as Jesús Luzardo, Grant Holmes, James Kaprielian, and A.J. Puk make their way down the pike.
Similarly, the Athletics are not all that likely to enter 2019 with their current catching core of Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann, who have combined for a 1.5 bWAR across the last three years. Given how late they signed veteran Jonathan Lucroy ahead of Opening Day last year, there’s still reason to believe a backstop like Matt Wieters, A.J. Ellis, or even former local All-Star Stephen Vogt could come in mid-spring.
Slusser doesn’t highlight any such free agents herself, though she does note that catching prospect Sean Murphy currently projects (via ZiPs) as the team’s most productive catcher, lending possibility to the idea of Oakland rolling with MLB Pipeline‘s fourth-ranked catcher.
Pirates Sign Melky Cabrera to Minor League Deal
Switch-hitting outfielder Melky Cabrera has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. ESPN‘s Jeff Passan adds that Cabrera will make $1.15MM should he crack the big-league club out of spring training, with an additional $850K in performance incentives in store.
Cabrera, 34, struggled to find work last year after a third consecutive 150-game season, but eventually latched on with the Cleveland Indians via minors deal in mid-April. After hitting a lackluster .207/.242/.293 through his first stint with the club, Cabrera returned with a bang in late July, putting together a .303/.363/.458 clip with six homers and 28 runs batted in as he eased his way into an everyday job in right field.
The journeyman Cabrera joins a line of outfielders looking to stick around in Pittsburgh while the team waits for Gregory Polanco to recover from September shoulder surgery. If he is able to replicate his career-high 39.2% hard-hit rate with the Indians last year, Cabrera will almost certainly find playing time alongside big-league addition Lonnie Chisenhall, and could even stick around as an option off the bench. His -17 DRS in right field across the past two years, however, will make it especially imperative that he hit his way into the conversation.